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Penguins Fourth-liner set to take Jagr's spot if necessary today

Saturday, April 28, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Josef Beranek dressed for just 70 games during the regular season and averaged less than 14 1/2 minutes of ice time.

Johan Hedberg has been good in goal, but he's had plenty of help. Marc Bergevin helps stop Dave Andreychuk in Game 1. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

He was a healthy scratch for Games 3 and 4 of the Penguins' first-round playoff series against Washington after logging a full five -- count 'em, five -- seconds of work in Game 1.

And now he is the right winger on their No. 1 line.

At least he will be for Game 2 of their second-round playoff series with Buffalo at 3:08 p.m. today at HSBC Arena if Jaromir Jagr isn't able to play because of the injuries that forced him to sit out third period of the Penguins' 3-0 victory in Game 1.

The official word on Jagr -- whose status for Game 2 might not be determined until shortly before the game -- is that he has a charley horse, although he said Thursday night that he has a bad groin, too.

And it's not inconceivable -- fact is, it's probable -- that Jagr has at least one other significant injury that team officials have managed to keep secret.

Jagr skated by himself while the Penguins conducted an optional workout at HSBC Arena yesterday. While he seemed to experience no serious difficulty, Jagr did employ strikingly short, choppy strides.

He said he simply tested his injury "a little bit" during the practice and quickly attached a large asterisk for the benefit of anyone trying to assess the significance of his time on the ice.

"It's not like a game," Jagr said. "I had no contact. I had nothing. I just skated."

His reason for going on the ice, he said, was to see how the leg felt and to avoid complications that could result if he remained idle too long.

"When you have a charley horse, you have blood [collected] in your legs," Jagr said. "They told me to go try it, that the movement should help. That's what I tried, but it hurt a lot when I pushed on it."

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Jagr said the decision on whether he will play today will be made by the Penguins' medical officials -- "It's not my call. The doctors or trainers have to make the decision" -- but Coach Ivan Hlinka said, "It's up to him, how he's feeling."

With the Penguins holding a 1-0 lead in the series by virtue of their 3-0 victory in Game 1, keeping Jagr out of the lineup -- if only as a precaution -- would seem to be a prudent move. Jagr, though, said the status of the series won't not be a factor on whether he plays.

"We've won one game," he said. "It's not like we've won the series. If I feel I can help the team, I'm going to go on the ice. That's the bottom line. As soon as I feel that the way I play can help the team, I'm going to go."

It's unlikely Beranek could help the Penguins nearly as much as Jagr -- witness Jagr's 52-9 advantage in goals during the regular season -- but he performed admirably while filling in alongside Mario Lemieux and Jan Hrdina during Game 1.

Beranek had gone 13 playoff games without an assist but helped to set up the Penguins' second and third goals during the third period.

"I was glad with the way the game went for me and the team," he said, and that seemed to be the prevailing sentiment among his co-workers.

"He played very well," Lemieux said. "The good thing about Joe is that he's got a lot of speed, and he's able to make plays. When you have speed, that complements myself and [Hrdina]."

Even the guy whose place he took made note of how well Beranek performed.

"He had some scoring chances," Jagr said. "He played seven minutes and assisted on two goals. Every time he was on the ice, he was very dangerous."

What made Beranek's performance particularly impressive was that he began the game on the fourth line and was little more than an interested observer until Jagr was injured. He logged 7:44 of ice time in the game.

"It's tough, when you don't play for two periods, then they put you out there," Hrdina said. "But I think he was excellent."

Difficult as it is for players to get into a rhythm when they've been stapled to the bench for an extended period, there are some advantages to having relatively fresh legs at this time of year.

"Your timing might be a little bit off, but for sure, you're rested," Hrdina said. "In the playoffs, they're tough games, and you get tired, so you might have an advantage there, that he's maybe a little more rested."

Beranek, though, might find his idle time decreasing, because he seems to be the first guy Hlinka turns to when a forward is injured.

When third-line center Wayne Primeau was hurt by a knee-to-knee hit from Washington's Dainius Zubrus during Round 1, Hlinka plugged Beranek into Primeau's place with Kevin Stevens and Aleksey Morozov, and Beranek acquitted himself quite nicely.

"You prefer to have a [set] spot to play," Beranek said, but he acknowledged that being able to serve in a variety of roles and positions enhances his chances of making a meaningful contribution.

"That's the way you want to be," he said. "If you're not [playing on] the first three lines, you want to be playing well anytime a spot opens."

Which might well happen on the Penguins' No. 1 line today.

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