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Vintage Felser: Is Barrasso history as Buffalo goalie?

The Buffalo News will honor longtime columnist Larry Felser this week by running a Felser column each day. Today’s column originally appeared Nov. 10, 1988.

As the third period dwindled down in the Aud Wednesday night, the doubters remembered with a shudder some of the shockingly sad endings for the Sabres this season.

Seconds from wrapping up a victory over the Flyers in the haunted Spectrum, the Sabres not only were tied, but Philadelphia won the game in overtime.

Remember the back-to-back games with the Bruins? In Boston, Buffalo built a 3-0 lead, then watched it disappear into a 3-3 tie in the final minute. The next day in Buffalo, the score was the same and the failure to protect the lead was similar.

To lose their 3-2 lead over Calgary Wednesday night would have scarred the heart of the Sabres, considering that the Flames had mortified Buffalo, 9-0, less than a week ago.

It could have happened. The Sabres got to take just one shot during the entire final period, and that required one of Pierre Turgeon’s magician moves.

But with the final seconds ticking away, the fans understood that this would be a happy ending. They chanted “Puppa! Puppa! Puppa!” in salute to the Buffalo goaltender, Daren Puppa.

On the other hand, the happy endings probably have ended for Tom Barrasso in Buffalo, forever.

If Barrasso isn’t traded, probably within the next few days, it will be a major upset.

It was no coincidence that the Sabres who played so tenaciously in front of Puppa in the Aud were the same Sabres who plodded their way through the 9-0 stoning in Calgary when Barrasso was the starting goaltender, to say nothing of their similar plodding in the 7-3 loss in Edmonton two nights earlier.

Barrasso was the goalie in that one, too.

Ted Sator, the Buffalo coach, was asked if the performance of Puppa and the manner in which the Sabres played in front of him, wasn’t fraught with significance.

“I think the team’s performance was fraught,” said Sator, who then praised the way Barrasso played in the last half of last season.

Spoken like a man who watched a lot of political sound bites lately.

Barrasso did play well a year ago. He finished runner-up in the competition for the Vezina Trophy. But that was then and this is now.

In the last playoffs, Barrasso was resoundingly mediocre, as usual. This year he was the goaltender in the impressive opening victory over Montreal then ... nothing.

The bad times were an important test for Barrasso. He flunked it.

The guy who almost won the Vezina last year was the “new” Barrasso, less selfish, less arrogant, more conscious of his role as a team leader.

The test came when the dark period clouded over Barrasso early this season. The “new Barrasso” went south. The “old Barrasso” returned, pouting, whining, showing an appalling lack of maturity and, in the end, losing his teammates.

When things went badly, he sucked his thumb again.

There has been an unacknowledged bitter competition between Barrasso and Puppa for a long time, and Puppa finally has won it.

Forget all the pap the two goalies spouted for public consumption, the stuff about there being no rivalry, that the competition makes them both sharper, etc.

An anecdote concerning helmets that each of the goalies had made within the last year clarifies the feeling between the two. When Barrasso had his helmet fitted a year ago, the inscription on the back read “A.W. -- 30.” The “A.W.” stood for “all-world,” a description of him first made by a Sabre scout who saw him play for his Massachusetts high school.

When Puppa later had his helmet fitted, the engraving on the back of his helmet read “A.U. -- 31.” The “A.U.” stood for “all-universe,” a higher standard, of course, than “all-world.”

There doesn’t seem to be any question that Puppa won this battle. The only question remaining is what the Sabres can get from a Barrasso trade.