BUFFALO, N.Y. -- With Mario Lemieux's playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Darius Kasparaitis became an unlikely hero.
Kasparaitis scored 13:01 into overtime as the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame two one-goal deficits to beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals Thursday night.
''I've dreamed about this goal for nine years, you know. And I can't believe I did it,'' said Kasparaitis, whose goal was only the second of his playoff career. ''I think I'll never do it again. I can't believe I scored a goal.''
The goal didn't happen the way he always played it out in his mind, but Kasparaitis will take it.
''My dream was to take the puck and beat the whole team by myself,'' he said. ''It didn't happen. But that's a nice goal, too.''
The Penguins, who carried much of the play in overtime, finally capitalized on one of their many odd-man breaks.
Robert Lang carried the puck up the right wing and fed a pass to Kasparaitis, who ripped a shot from the top of the left circle that beat goalie Dominik Hasek just inside the far post.
Kasparaitis only scored three times in the regular season.
''I was saying, 'Oh, no, it's Kasparaitis -- oh, yes!''' forward Kevin Stevens said. ''He can't score anywhere, that guy. It was a close series, but we have Kaspar.''
The Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference finals against the defending Stanley Cup champion Devils, in a series that begins in New Jersey on Saturday night. The Devils eliminated Toronto with a 5-1 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
The Penguins continue to resemble a team of destiny, as Lemieux -- the team's owner and already a Hall of Famer -- has a chance to win the third Stanley Cup of his career that resumed in December after a 3 1/2-year retirement.
''We just met the budget,'' said a laughing Lemieux, noting that his team is guaranteed at least two more home playoff dates.
After scoring, Kasparaitis ran a few steps before diving and sliding face first from center ice to the opposite blue line, where he was mobbed by his teammates.
The Sabres sat stunned on their bench, awaiting the official announcement of the goal. After shaking hands with the Penguins, the dejected Buffalo players headed off the ice.
''They always came back,'' Hasek said. ''It seemed like we couldn't hold the lead. When we have a one-goal lead four times and they score all four times, something is wrong.''
Hasek was referring to the Sabres' 3-2 loss in Game 6, when the Penguins again overcame two one-goal deficits. Lemieux forced overtime with 1:18 left in regulation and Martin Straka scored the winner the first time the Penguins faced elimination.
Hasek might have played his final game for the Sabres as he finished the final guaranteed year of his contract. The Sabres hold the option to re-sign him for one more year.
''It's possible this could be my last game in Buffalo,'' said Hasek, who has also considered retiring. ''I need like two or three weeks to make my decision.''
It was the 27th Game 7 to go into overtime and the 23rd game in this year's playoffs that required extra time, second only to the 28 in 1993.
The final three games of this series ended in overtime, all settled by 3-2 scores.
Lang, who tied it 2-2 with nine minutes left in regulation, and Straka had a goal and assist for the Penguins, who reached the conference finals for the fourth time in team history.
Andrew Ference also scored for the Penguins, and captain Jaromir Jagr had three assists.
Jagr was emotional following the game, realizing that a loss could have finished his Pittsburgh career. Although he's under contract for next season, the speculation is the Penguins might not be able to afford his salary.
''Before the game I was thinking a little bit. My first years were successful, winning two Stanley Cups,'' Jagr said. ''And I'm thinking I was very lucky, and if it is my last year, if God is upstairs, I cannot leave like that. I would not be fair.''
J.P. Dumont and Steve Heinze scored for the Sabres.
After being held to seven shots the final 30 minutes of regulation, the Penguins came out flying in overtime.
Pittsburgh nearly won it 54 seconds earlier when Alexei Kovalev set up Ference in the slot. Ference got a quick shot off only to be denied by Hasek's brilliant left-pad save.
Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg made a game-saving stop on Buffalo's Vladimir Tsyplakov with 1:39 left in regulation.
Hedberg made the initial stop, but the rebound bounced to Tsyplakov who tried to sneak the puck around the downed goalie. Hedberg lunged back and managed to smother the puck with his body.
''It's a hollow feeling right now,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said. ''I can't take any consolation that we played well.''
The Sabres went up 2-1 when Heinze deflected Jason Woolley's point shot for a power-play goal 32 seconds into the third period.
The only two Buffalo-Pittsburgh playoff series have been decided by a Penguins OT goal in the final game in Buffalo. George Ferguson did it in 1979.
Notes: Pittsburgh won its first-round series against Washington in Game 6 when Straka scored in overtime. ... Because of scheduling difficulties, the Sabres were forced to paint the Stanley Cup logos in the neutral zone early as they aren't supposed to be appear until the conference finals. With an arena football game in Buffalo on Friday, and the possibility of the Sabres playing host to a game on Saturday, the team went ahead and painted the logos on the ice earlier this week. ... Hasek fell to 0-2 in career seventh games.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.