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Penguins Penguins Report: 4/29/01

Sunday, April 29, 2001

Compiled by Dave Molinari and Dejan Kovacevic

LOOKING AHEAD

Game 3: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7:08 p.m. tomorrow, Mellon Arena. TV, radio: Fox Sports Net Pittsburgh; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

The Penguins scratched RW Jaromir Jagr (charley horse), LW Dan LaCouture, LW Steve McKenna, D Frantisek Kucera and G Jean-Sebastien Aubin. LW Krzysztof Oliwa, a healthy scratch for the previous three games, returned to the lineup and skated on the fourth line.

Jagr and Coach Ivan Hlinka had an animated, vocal discussion -- in Czech, of course -- outside the Penguins' locker room before the game. Both, predictably, downplayed the significance of the incident. Hlinka said, "it was a regular discussion, not about anything special," while Jagr insisted that "we were talking about cards. Regular playing cards. I don't believe you [reporters]." A Czech photgrapher who witnessed the exchange said Jagr made at least one reference to the defensive system Hlinka installed just more than a month ago, but it wasn't clear if that was the crux of their discussion.

RW Alexei Kovalev's booming hit, which knocked Sabres D Alexei Zhitnik out of the game at 14:43 of the first period, was not meant as revenge, Kovalev said, even though Zhitnik had flattened him early in the third period of Game 1 Thursday. "If I wanted to chase him, I would have chased him in the last game, maybe tried to do something stupid," Kovalev said. "It was just an opportunity for me to finish my check, and I did it." As a teen-ager, Kovalev played with Zhitnik on Russian national teams, and he said he harbors no ill will toward him. "He's a great guy," Kovalev said. "I feel bad for him. Who knows how he ended up like that? I could have ended up like that in the last game." And did Kovalev raise his elbow, as the Sabres charged? "Not at all. I just turned sideways and hit him with my shoulder."

Kovalev netted his third goal of the playoffs with 2.9 seconds remaining, using a high backhand flip which originated from the right boards at the Penguins' blue line. When an observer noted he had witnessed Kovalev practicing that rather unorthodox shot a few times at Southpointe, Kovalev grinned. "You saw that, right? See how that stuff pays off? You never know when you might need it."

LW Rene Corbet logged more ice time, 9:34, than he had in the previous three months. He was bumped from the fourth line to the first at the start of the third period when RW Josef Beranek was knocked out of the game by what team officials described as a groin injury. "This was my chance," Corbet said. "I've been working hard, going to the gym every day. It was good for me. It was exciting to play. Ivan told me at the intermission I'm going to play on the right side instead of the left, and I said, 'OK.' You don't care where you play. You just want to get out there and do your part." Corbet was credited with three hits.

G Johan Hedberg, who was outstanding again in stopping 21 of 22 shots, said he could sympathize with Sabres G Dominik Hasek, who allowed two bad bounces to beat him on 14 shots. "As a goaltender, I know how hard these games are, especially against a team like ours," Hedberg said. "With the offensive threats we have, it's really, really tough to play. We got some lucky bounces in this one, but sometimes, that's what you need." Hedberg saved his best work for the third period, when the Sabres generated 11 shots. "I was expecting them to come out hard, and they did," he said. "I thought we all played solid."

SABRES NOTEBOOK

The Sabres scratched LW Erik Rasmussen (shoulder), D Richard Smehlik (ankle), C Chris Taylor, LW Vladimir Tsyplakov and LW Eric Boulton. LW Rob Ray, a healthy scratch for the previous five games, returned to the lineup and skated on the fourth line.

Buffalo likely will be without D Alexei Zhitnik, and it definitely will be without D Jay McKee for Game 3 tomorrow because of mild concussions. That would leave the Sabres without their top three defensemen, including Smehlik. Zhitnik was knocked out of the game yesterday by a crushing check from Penguins RW Alexei Kovalev at 14:43 of the first period, McKee by colliding with Penguins C Mario Lemieux at 8:26 of the second. The Sabres were forced to play the final half of the game with four defensemen. "I thought that if you look at the work of our forwards in the last 35 minutes, they did everything they could to keep them out of our end," Coach Lindy Ruff said. "The effort we got with Zhitnik and McKee out of the lineup, I thought you couldn't criticize that at all."

Ruff disagreed with Kovalev's view that his hit on Zhitnik was clean. "I watched two replays where it was elbow on chin. So, in my determination, from what I've seen, that will be dealt with."

The Sabres are expected to recall D Doug Houda and D Brian Campbell from their AHL affiliate in Rochester to replace Zhitnik and McKee.

C Stu Barnes scored the Sabres' lone goal and snapped a personal drought of 15 games. He nailed the top right corner on a sizzling wrist shot at 14:44 of the second period. Barnes was asked if that's the quality of shots Buffalo will have to produce to beat Penguins G Johan Hedberg. "That's a good question," Barnes said. "Maybe that's what it's going to take. We had a lot of good chances, and we've got to keep trying to get more. We knew we weren't going to go out and score a ton of goals on this guy. He's playing well, and so is their whole team defensively. We got this one today, and now we need to try to get more."

Buffalo's best chance in the third period came 25 seconds in, when RW Donald Audette blew through the Penguins' defense, skated in alone on Hedberg, darted around him ... and watched the puck slide off his stick. "I deked the goalie, and the puck just took off on me. Look at the whole third period. We gave up only four shots, and we had all those chances. We gave everything we had. The puck just bounced the other way every time."

Game 2 drew a capacity crowd of 18,690, giving the Sabres a chance to start a new streak of playoff sellouts. Game 1, which fell 554 short of a full house, was the first postseason game at HSBC Arena that failed to sell out, ending a run of 18. Fans here have complained bitterly that the Sabres doubled ticket prices from the first round to the second.

LW Dave Andreychuk, on how Hedberg played: "Same as he was in Game 1. In good position all the time. We just need to keep getting shots on him, keep getting chances. Hopefully, they'll go in."

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
Saturday's result

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (6-4) lost to Philadelphia, 3-2, in overtime in Game 5 of a best-of-seven, second-round Calder Cup playoff series at Wilkes-Barre's First Union Arena. The Baby Penguins led the series, 3-2, with Game 6 Tuesday in Philadelphia.

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