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Original Issue

Play It Again For the second time in a year the Sabres were victims of a tainted postseason goal, and this time the video was indisputable

The citizens of Buffalo descended on HSBC Arena on Sunday,
bearing not torches and pitchforks but signs that read HOLY NET,
BETTMAN, NO GOAL and WHY US? For two days they'd watched the
video of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals between
their Sabres and the Philadelphia Flyers as if it were the
Zapruder film. The tape showed Philly wing John LeClair blasting
a shot through the twine outside the right goalpost. NHL replay
officials, not realizing what had occurred until minutes later,
had allowed the tally to stand.

The Buffalo fans felt a mixture of anger and angst, a reaction
that was hardly surprising considering what they'd witnessed the
last time they'd convened for a playoff game: Brett Hull's
controversial skate-in-the-crease, triple-overtime score in Game
6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup finals that gave the chalice to the
Dallas Stars. That play was seared into the civic consciousness
as No Goal, and the fiasco last Friday in Philadelphia was
instantly immortalized as No Goal II. (An equally resonant
catchphrase would have been Wide Right II, in memory of Scott
Norwood's missed 47-yard field goal that cost the Bills victory
in Super Bowl XXV.)

The Sabres haven't fared well with technology recently. Twice
within a year, video replay has muddied the picture instead of
clarifying it, breeding rancor in Buffalo and around the league.
No Goal was a matter of interpretation--NHL replay officials
determined that Hull had control of the puck while in the
crease, making it a legal score. No Goal II was a matter of
injustice and a testament to situational ethics. The NHL had
incontrovertible video evidence, pieced together in less than
six minutes of playing time, that LeClair's shot had entered the
net through the side, but the league chose not to correct the
mistake. Even after the Flyers took a 3-0 series lead on Sunday
with the most lopsided 2-0 victory imaginable, the question
remained: Why wasn't the call reversed?

In the day following No Goal II, NHL executive vice president
Colin Campbell raised that question with three neutral general
managers. He said they'd agreed that Buffalo had been wronged
but that pragmatism outweighed the imperative to get the call
correct. If the video-replay official couldn't detect the error
in a reasonable time--NHL supervisor John D'Amico and Mike
Condon, an off-ice official who works Boston Bruins games during
the regular season, had taken 52 seconds before they'd
mistakenly determined that LeClair's shot entered the net
legally--there was no practical recourse for deleting the score,
though nothing in the rule book prohibits reversing a decision
after play has resumed. Another general manager told SI he
thought the score should have been disallowed and the clock
reset to the time of LeClair's nongoal. Sabres general manager
Darcy Regier, torn by the issue, said on Sunday, "We owe it to
the game to try to find a better answer than the one we had [in
Game 2]."

"The question is, How far do we take it?" Campbell said. "Is
this Pandora's box? Do we go back to Islanders-Flyers [in
pre-replay-rule 1980, when New York scored a key goal in the
clinching game of the Cup finals after linesman Leon Stickle
missed an Islanders offsides]? Or what if the fifth replay shows
a puck gloved ahead to the stick of the player who scored?
Should there be a time limit [for disallowing a goal after play
has resumed]? These are questions for 30 general managers to
discuss and vote on. In this case five networks televising the
game with 15 cameras spent more than five minutes [and still
couldn't determine that the puck went through the side of the
net] before some guy in Bristol [Conn., home of ESPN] spotted

Let's rewind the videotape: With 15:07 left in the second period
and Buffalo leading 1-0, LeClair fired a tracer from the right
face-off circle that zoomed past goalie Dominik Hasek and into
the net. The goal judge flicked on the red light. LeClair, who
sensed something wasn't right, hesitated and then raised his
arms in celebration. Hasek's reaction was even more curious. He
looked at the goalpost and then did a double take, as if
noticing that a puppy had left an unwelcome surprise on the
carpet. Hasek is so confident in his positioning, he could
hardly believe LeClair had found an opening inside the post.
Still, Hasek reasoned, that was a 98-mph slap shot. "On the
bench we couldn't figure out where it went in," Sabres
defenseman Jason Woolley said last Saturday. "We just took our
thought process from Dom, who normally goes ballistic if
anything's wrong." In the video-replay booth, this goal, like
every other, was reviewed. D'Amico and Condon looked at two
camera angles, including an overhead shot, and saw nothing
untoward. Then the puck was dropped. The game moved on.

D'Amico and Condon, however, didn't have access to the feed from
the ESPN camera inside the net. (When asked why, D'Amico
replied, "Good question.") ESPN didn't show the conclusive
replay from the netcam for several minutes, although once the
replay was broadcast, word spread like an urban legend. During a
stoppage with 9:55 remaining in the period--five minutes and 12
seconds of playing time after LeClair's goal--Sabres right wing
Dixon Ward finally pointed out the hole in the net to linesman
Brad Lazarowich, who proceeded to mend it. Regier attempted to
enter the video-replay booth to confront the officials but was
rebuffed and instructed to return between periods. He did,
venting his rage at D'Amico, a frustration Ward would bitterly
echo after a match the Flyers would win 2-1. "Embarrassing is
what it is," Ward said. "Obviously we can't comment on it
because we're not allowed to say anything [negative about the
league]. Smile and promote the game. [Say] what a wonderful game
it is." If the playoffs revolve around hope, about stealing some
of the other team's and adding it to your stash, suddenly the
Sabres were without a prayer.

The next day the Buffalo players drifted from anger to irony,
with a brief stop for gallows humor, knowing Philadelphia
wouldn't start Game 3 with -1 on the scoreboard. Woolley
sarcastically suggested the NHL should revamp the rules,
awarding two points for a puck that crosses the goal line from
in front, one if it goes in from the side. Indeed, rules have
changed after screw-ups involving the Sabres--the crease rule
was revamped last summer following the No Goal outcry. The fact
remained, however, that Buffalo had been slow to rebound from
disappointments, taking nine months to recover from No Goal by
finally qualifying for the playoffs on the last day of the
regular season. In Game 3 the Sabres didn't rebound against the
Flyers, who hermetically sealed the crease around rookie goalie
Brian Boucher with surpassing team defense. "It's tough to know
if he's good or not," Buffalo winger Geoff Sanderson said after
Game 3. "We're not getting close enough to test him."

The Sabres won't get the goal or the series back against the
Flyers. Sorry. LeClair's twine-tearing shot was, as a remarkably
sanguine Hasek put it, "bad luck." Campbell says that "sports is
about the moment." Like Buffalo, the NHL has had finer ones.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAMIAN STROHMEYER Sabre Rattling Linesman Brad Lazarowich tries to untangle a scrum involving the Flyers and the Sabres while the Philly faithful deliver some verbal blows during the teams' first-round Stanley Cup playoffs (page 58). [Leading Off]

FOUR COLOR PHOTOS: ESPN SIDE ENTRYThese views from ESPN's netcam proved that LeClair's shot (circled) went through the mesh on the outside of the post and should not have counted. Later, Lazarowich mended the ripped cord.