Two weeks ago, after Dominik Hasek recorded his 10th shutout, he admitted that it was an important milestone because it seemed like a nice, round number.
When asked whether he could reach 15, the Buffalo Sabres' star goaltender laughed and shrugged off the notion that anybody could put together such an incredible season.
After stopping 37 shots in a 4-0 win Wednesday night over the Los Angeles Kings, Hasek suddenly finds himself with 13 down, two to Tony Esposito. With nine games remaining in the regular season, don't bet against 20.
"I can't believe it," Hasek said. ``Ten shutouts is such a great number, but there have been so many. I never expected it. I don't know if I'm good or my teammates are good or if defense is a priority in the NHL."
Donald Audette scored the first and last goals for Buffalo, which built a 2-0 lead in the first two periods before winning for the fourth time in five games. Curtis Brown and Alexei Zhitnik had the other goals.
Once again, Hasek made it look easy in lowering his goals-against average to 2.11. He virtually took away Los Angeles' power play by himself and was steady throughout the third period. The shutout was his third in four games and sixth in his last 15.
"It's the same old script," Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said.
Not that the Sabres are getting bored. After all, Hasek is the single biggest reason they are within reaching distance of fourth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race with nine games remaining.
With 13 shutouts and presumably more to come, Hasek can still catch Esposito, who had 15 for Chicago in 1968-70 when the league expanded. Bernie Parent had 12 for Philadelphia in 1973-74 and again the following year. George Hainsworth had 22 in a 44-game schedule in 1928-29.
"You can't bet against him," defenseman Jason Woolley said. "It would be the last thing we could do for him, helping him get this record."
Even more impressive about Hasek is that he has faced more shots (1,968) than any other goaltender in the league. And Buffalo has allowed 29 shots per game in the 13 shutouts.
So it's not as if opponents haven't had their chances.
"They play hard in front of Dom, and he makes the big saves," said Kings defenseman Garry Galley, who played two-plus seasons for Buffalo. "What you saw was patented Sabres hockey."
Los Angeles, which has lost three of four, went 0-for-10 on the power play. Buffalo was 2-for-9 in the same situation. Referee Richard Trottier called 144 minutes in penalties in the game, which included three fights and five misconducts.
Brown gave Hasek a two-goal lead after Los Angeles handed Buffalo three consecutive power-play opportunities in the second period.
The Sabres were unablto score after holding a two-man advantage after the penalties overlapped, but Brown broke through with 4:14 left in the period and Buffalo helped Hasek finish it off in the third.
The Sabres were getting severely outplayed until Audette gave them a 1-0 lead with 7:50 remaining in the first period when he scored off a rebound on the power play.
Brian Holzinger had the puck behind the Kings' net and hit Miroslav Satan with a quick pass in front. Fiset stopped Satan's shot, but Audette grabbed control on the other side and stuffed in his 21st. Audette's other goal came off a rebound with 7:55 remaining.
"When you're going to the net, good things happen," Audette said. "That's what we've been doing. Near the end of the year, you're not going to score too many pretty goals."
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