Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock look back as Buffalo Sabres' 'No Goal' loss turns 25


Staff member

You cringe at the phrase. You know what it means. Lindy Ruff dropped it during the Niagara Square celebration three days after the bitter end of the 1999 Stanley Cup Final, and it lives forever.

No Goal.

The Sabres’ coach called them his “final two words for the summer,” never knowing they would be the title for all time to describe Buffalo’s 2-1, triple-overtime loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 6. Brett Hull’s goal after 14:51 of the sixth period gave the Stars their first Stanley Cup, and the Sabres have never been back to hockey’s ultimate series.

The moment: With his left skate in the crease, Brett Hull beats Dominik Hasek to give the Dallas Stars a 2-1 triple-overtime victory over the Sabres in Game 6 of the 1999 Stanley Cup final in then-Marine Midland Arena. Gene J. Puskar, Associated Press

The game was played on June 19, 1999 – 25 years ago Wednesday. It stretched into the wee hours of June 20 before Hull’s controversial foot-in-the-crease goal was allowed to stand as the game-winner.

Over the years, multiple players have weighed in. Hull regularly tweaked Buffalo fans, notably with his infamous Halloween pumpkin carving of the play’s photo in 2012. Dominik Hasek told me on the 20th anniversary that he wanted to jump back on the ice when the Sabres realized what had happened, but he had already taken off much of his equipment and knew it was too late.

What do the coaches think? Then-Dallas coach Ken Hitchcock weighed in with me in Toronto in November, a few days prior to his induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Ruff responded last week during a chat in KeyBank Center. Two fascinating turn-back-the-clock sessions.

Hitchcock talks team
Hitchcock was naturally thrilled to reminisce about his Cup-winning team. Of course, with his inquisitor being from Buffalo, he knew where our conversation was going at some point, too.

“The whole hockey world still talks about that series. That’s what makes it special. Everybody talks about it now,” Hitchcock said. “Sometimes the seasons run together, right? Sometimes you lose focus of who did what at certain time during all these Cup finals. But everybody knows what happened in that series.”

One thing too easily overlooked in that series is how well the Stars defended. The Sabres scored only nine goals in six games. Their 2-1 loss in Game 3, their first Cup final home game since 1975, was notable for the fact they had just 12 shots on goal.

“We won because we checked. For about three years there, I truly believe we checked better than any team in the world,” Hitchcock said. “We made it impossible on everybody we played. That was a big sacrifice, because everybody had to do it and we did it all over the ice. That’s the part I’m proudest of.”

The Stars also rode the strong play in goal of veteran Ed Belfour, who was just a shade better than Hasek in this series.

“Dominik Hasek was physically imposing and intimidating and you could really get discouraged by watching him play,” Hitchcock said. “But having Ed Belfour, I felt we had a counterbalance. And we used it the best we could.”

The Stars were banged up by the end of the series, and Hitchcock revealed to me Hull was injured to the point where doctors had ruled him out of Game 6 during the overtimes.

“The doctor had pulled Hull from the game and he was sitting on the bench when I lost Benoit Hogue,” Hitchcock said. “I told Hull he’s got to go play. So, he grabbed his gloves and went and played, and that’s when he scored the goal. I had an unhappy doctor for a little while, to be honest with you, in our celebration.”

In his final year of coaching, in 2018-19 with Edmonton, Hitchcock came back to KeyBank Center for a game and mused how the locker room the Stars celebrated in was long gone, taken over by the Sabres’ 2011 renovation. The Stars were not aware of any controversy until reporters entered the room an hour after Hull scored and started asking about it.

“We stayed and talked to each other until 5 in the morning and got on the flight,” Hitchcock said in 2019. “Our life as coaches is winning is relief and losing is just like living in hell. We celebrate for about five seconds, and the rest of the time we live in misery.”

Ruff talks timing
In the immediate aftermath of the goal, Ruff returned to the Sabres’ bench to try to get the attention of NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and demand to know why the goal wasn’t pulled back. Bettman ignored him.

The Sabres’ dressing room stayed closed a long time that night as players processed what had happened and Ruff met with NHL officiating supervisor Bryan Lewis, who reminded him about the “possession and control” clause of a memo the league had sent to teams late in the season about such plays, but was not made publicly available.

“All the planets collided there,” Ruff said with a pained smile last week. “Think about it. Game-winning goal. Stanley Cup. In overtime. At 2 in the morning. Everything collided. If you look at today’s game in any overtime and really any goal, you’re cautious on your celebration. You don’t know. The play might be offside or something else.

“Back then, we had actually talked to our team that if we get in that position where it’s in doubt, we’re flooding the ice and we’re out of here. So maybe I got what I deserved.”

Ruff said the rules of the day favored the Stars and their grinding style.

“The hooking, holding and obstruction was at a level that the league knew that they were going to have to change it,” Ruff said. “The game was getting down to a crawl. Dallas had some big bodies and had to slow us down. In today’s rules, the penalties would have been about 35-25 and the whole game would have been power play.”

Still, Ruff gave it up to his 1999 team and said he hopes the Sabres team he is inheriting can build that kind of passion.

“When you use the word ‘team,’ it’s about playing team defense, and those guys bought into whatever we put on their plate,” Ruff said. “They bought in. It was that group saying, ‘OK, we’re going to get it done.’

“I’ve talked to all of our players, and (new assistant coach) Seth Appert is talking to them, and the message that we’re trying to drive home is each day we’ve got to get better. ‘It’s going to come from you guys, challenging each other to get better. Can you outwork the next guy? Can you win the 1-on-1 battles?’ That team did a lot of that. We got every ounce out of them.”

Hitchcock said he felt there might have been as many as four of his players missing in a potential Game 7, including Hull and Mike Modano. He said during overtimes of Game 6, he was pondering which of his reserves might be needed if the Stars lost.

“If that goes to Game 7, we’ve got nothing left,” Hitchcock insisted. “We were banged up beyond belief.”

“I’d put that in the we’ll-see category,” Ruff said with a laugh. “You’re going to tell Hull and Modano they’re not playing Game 7 after they played Game 6? That’s a great story to write, but I think those players would have a say.”
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