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You have to wonder who the New York Rangers are going to want to bring in next.

Maybe they'll go after Pavel Bure. Rumor has it he's getting bored with his early-season tour of Europe and might be interested in playing hockey again. He knows how to score goals.

Maybe it will be Ziggy Palffy. Last time he was seen in the NHL, he was finding the net with some regularity, too.

Who knows? The Rangers might even try to tempt Pat LaFontaine out of retirement. There has to be somebody out there who can wear a blue shirt andbeat Dominik Hasek. Cleanly.

Not to draw too fine a distinction regarding Adam Graves ending Hasek's phenomenal shutout streak against the Rangers at 281:57 or the garbage-time goal by Michael Knuble late in the game, but there was never any doubt that the Sabres and Hasek were going to beat the Rangers.

Not even two goals -- one semi-disputed -- scored in nearly the same amount of time Petr Nedved has been in the NHL can't detract from Hasek's mastery over this club.

You have to go back to before Christmas of 1996 to find a record of the last New York win vs. Buffalo (3-0 on Dec. 13, 1996). That's so long ago LaFontaine was still wearing a Sabres uniform. Some guy named Ted Nolan was his coach and a fellow by the name of John Muckler was the general manager.

Even by Buffalo standards, that was a lifetime ago.

Rangers general manager Neil Smith tried to change that Wednesday. In getting Nedved, Chris Tamer and Sean Pronger from the Pittsburgh Penguins for Alexei Kovalev, Harry York and probably enough cash to keep the bankruptcy judge out of the Pittsburgh locker room until at least the Christmas bills come due, Smith raised the bar somewhat.

Now the worst team money can buy has at least some hope of putting the puck in the net on something more than a once-a-quarter basis.

Not that it happened Wednesday.

Despite, or maybe in spite, of the Graves goal, Hasek was his singularly brilliant self. He made stops with his stick and glove, his pads and blocker, his chest, shoulder, ankle and knee. He made close-in stops and one beauty on a breakaway. He even pulled out one of the old standards from his early days, a head save off a scramble in front of the net.

The question of victory was never in doubt. Just how many shots he would keep out and whether or not it would be enough for yet another shutout.

It didn't happen this time. But coupled with the four games that had come before, it still adds up to a dominating performance.

Hasek doesn't say exactly why he has New York's number. Coach Lindy Ruff thinks it's part of the whole New York mystique. Madison Square Garden, the Big Apple, the MSG Network and all that. His teammates think it has something to do with the fact that if you play well in or against New York, you're going to get recognition like no other place on earth.

Hasek did go so far as to admit that the Rangers are not the same team they were when they won the Stanley Cup in 1994 and maybe that's why he's had some success against them, but he also unleashed the kind of smile that made you think that it wasn't the only reason.

I have a different theory. Hasek is not just one of the game's greats, he's a student of the game's greatest players as well. And almost from the time Wayne Gretzky, the Greatest One, announced to the world that he felt Hasek was the best player in the game, Hasek has done his absolute best to live up to the designation.

Against the Rangers, he's gone to incredible lengths to prove it. It's almost as if he's extra determined not to make Gretzky look like he overstated his case.

In the game within a game, great players always do that. They play at a high level all the time, but it's even higher when they're within each other's presence. One gets a sense that as long as Gretzky is a Ranger, Hasek is going to give a performance worthy of a Broadway show.

It won't get him a shutout every time out. But for now and the immediate future, it's a very real possibility. That, more than anything else, is what great players do.

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