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Penguins Penguins Report: 4/25/01

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

LOOKING AHEAD

Game 1: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7:38 p.m. tomorrow, HSBC Arena. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

Coach Ivan Hlinka gave the Penguins yesterday off. They will begin preparations for their second-round series against Buffalo with a workout today at 11 a.m. at Mellon Arena.

LW Martin Straka recorded the 13th winning goal in overtime in franchise history when he beat Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig on a breakaway at 13:04 of Game 6 Monday at Mellon Arena. And while the Penguins' collection of highly skilled forwards would seem to be tailor-made for overtime, they actually had lost five of their previous six overtime games, including Game 4 against the Capitals, before Monday.

The Penguins reported selling more than 5,000 tickets for Games 3, 4 and 6 of the second round yesterday. Team officials said that "a few hundred" tickets remain for Games 3 and 4.

G Johan Hedberg's flopping save on Washington C Jeff Halpern late in the second period Monday wasn't quite as dramatic as "The Save" Frank Pietrangelo authored a decade earlier -- the Penguins weren't in danger of being eliminated by the Capitals Monday -- but there some striking parallels. Both, for example, came in 4-3 victories in Game 6 of the opening round. Ten years ago, New Jersey C Peter Stastny threw a point-blank shot toward a mostly open net and hit Pietrangelo in the glove. Halpern managed to hit Hedberg, who was not looking at the shot, in the arm while Hedberg was throwing himself across the crease in a pretty fair Dominik Hasek impersonation. "There were two guys in the crease, and I couldn't really get over there," Hedberg said. "So the only chance I had was to spin around and get my glove over there. ... [Halpern] should score from there, but if he saw the open net, maybe he relaxed, and you can steal those sometimes. It's the kind of save you don't make too often, but it's great to do it sometimes."

Although the Penguins' fourth-liners were not a factor during the Washington series, sometimes getting just seconds of ice time, C Mario Lemieux believes it will be important to get them involved against Buffalo. "Especially early in the next series, we have to start using the fourth line a little bit more,' he said. "If they can play five or six minutes, that's all we need."

Running the Capitals out of the playoffs has become a virtual rite of spring, but, to a man, the Penguins believed it was tougher than usual this time. A lot tougher. "Every game, every shift was as tight as it gets," LW Kevin Stevens said. "There was no time to relax." Game 6 provided a microcosm of the series, with major momentum shifts and numerous psychological highs and lows. "It was rough on the ticker," Lemieux said. "It was emotional out there. That's why the playoffs are great."

Watch Hedberg work and it's easy to forget that he's an NHL playoff novice, that he'd never played a game at this level until a little more than a month ago. Hedberg, though, hasn't lost his sense of wonder at the turn his career has taken, at how he has become a pivotal figure in his team's bid for a Stanley Cup. "This is the biggest thing I've been around," he said. "Coming off the ice [after Game 6] and seeing all these guys I look up to being so happy is just an unbelievable feeling."

Washington's power play savaged the Penguins during Round 1, scoring seven times in 22 tries, and Buffalo's was even more lethal during its opening-round series, converting six of 18 chances against Philadelphia. That means the Penguins, who were guilty of some ill-conceived and unnecessary penalties against the Capitals, will try to cut down on those while facing the Sabres. "Definitely, discipline comes into play," D Bob Boughner said. "You don't mind killing off a good one [taken] in a desperate situation, but the offensive-zone penalties are going to kill you."

RW Jaromir Jagr has won four consecutive NHL scoring championships and has game-breaking ability with few, if any, peers in the league. He thus has the potential to be the decisive force as a series progresses, and Jagr seems convinced that he has the strength and stamina to make a difference late in a round. "Everybody works hard," he said. "Everybody has the power to play the first four games. I've always felt that [series] are decided in Games 5, 6 and 7 by whoever has more power, more strength. Hopefully, I work hard enough to be in good shape in for Game 6 and Game 7." That means Buffalo might want to pay extra attention to Jagr as Round 2 moves along. Not, mind you, that the Sabres were likely to ignore him.

One facet of home-ice advantage is playing before a friendly crowd, and the MCI Center fans generated some serious noise in Games 1, 2 and 5 of the Washington series. The Penguins, though, believe that boisterous fans -- like the ones they'll encounter at HSBC Arena the next two weeks -- aren't necessarily a negative for visitors, just a plus for the home team. "It just does good things for them," LW Jan Hrdina said. "I don't think it bothers us or anything like that." Hedberg, who allowed just three goals -- all on the power play -- during the three road games in the first round, clearly wasn't affected by the verbal abuse he got from Capitals fans. "I don't think they were very hostile," he said. "The only thing that matters is that it's loud. They were cheering for stuff that needed to be cheered for."

SABRES NOTEBOOK

The Sabres practiced yesterday at HSBC Arena in Buffalo. All players participated except D Richard Smehlik (ankle) and D Denis Hamel (knee). Smehlik was injured Thursday in Game 5 of Buffalo's series with the Flyers and is listed as day to day. Hamel was knocked out of the lineup for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament Jan. 27. C Erik Rasmussen had been bugged through most of the first round with a shoulder injury, but he will be ready to face the Penguins. D Jason Woolley, formerly of the Penguins, battled the flu for much of the past two weeks, but he also is available to play.

Buffalo is coming off a 46-30-5 regular season, its highest victory total since 48 in 1983-84 and 11 more than it had a year ago. Much of the credit for that has gone to Coach Lindy Ruff, who has won 183 games -- regular season and playoffs -- in his first four years behind the bench. In that time, only the Stars' Ken Hitchcock (235), the Red Wings' Scott Bowman (209) and the Blues' Joel Quenneville (205) have more. "I think you give your team direction and help motivate them," Ruff told the Buffalo News. "You put them in a situation where the players can succeed."

The Sabres' hottest player in the postseason has been C Chris Gratton, who led the NHL with five goals in the first round. That's quite a turnaround for a guy who had two playoff goals in 16 games during his first seven years in the league. "I hadn't been too successful," he said. "This series, I got lucky, there's no question about it. Just to be able to contribute to this hockey club offensively was a big boost. Hopefully, I can carry it to the next series." In 31 career games against the Penguins, Gratton has five goals, including one goal in four meetings this season.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
TUESDAY'S RESULT

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (5-2) did not play. The Baby Penguins lead their second-round Calder Cup playoff series with Philadelphia, 2-0, heading into Game 3 tonight at the First Union Spectrum. G Rich Parent has a 2.44 goals-against average and .901 save percentage in seven postseason games.

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