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Penguins Shoulder injury keeps Jagr out

Shooting puck, not skating, primary concern for winger

Tuesday, May 01, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

The worst-kept secret in town is out.

The injury which has knocked right winger Jaromir Jagr out of the Penguins' lineup for the past two Stanley Cup playoff games is a strained shoulder and not a charley horse, as team officials had been insisting for four days.

That much became abundantly obvious yesterday, during the morning skate for Game 3 of the Penguins' second-round series with the Buffalo Sabres at Mellon Arena. Jagr skated and stickhandled with no difficulty, but he couldn't muster the strength to attempt a shot.

"I can handle the puck, so that's not the problem," he said. "But if you cannot shoot, you cannot play. That's the bottom line. This is not peewee hockey. You cannot take the puck and skate from one end to the other. You have to be able to have a good shot to score goals or create some scoring chances. I'm just not able to do it right now."

It was Jagr's decision to come clean about his injury, even though it is common practice for teams to deceive in such matters during the playoffs.

"Everybody knows, probably," he said. "If I say I cannot shoot, do you think it's my charley horse? I would be able to shoot with my leg."

Jagr hopes to return for Game 4 tomorrow, but emphasized that how quickly he comes back is out of his or anyone's control. He is not receiving any unusual treatment for the injury -- he had made a habit of visiting acupuncturists for previous ailments -- and said little can be done to accelerate the healing.

"There isn't much they can do about it," Jagr said of the doctors who examined his shoulder. "Only time is going to fix it."

He reported some modest progress.

"It's better today than yesterday, for sure. But I don't think right now that I would be any help to the team."

Rene Corbet filled Jagr's spot on the Penguins' top line alongside center Mario Lemieux and left winger Jan Hrdina last night.

"He tried to skate for this one, so hopefully, he will be OK for Game 4," Coach Ivan Hlinka said of Jagr. "It's up to him. He makes the decision. He's got the experience. He knows his body."

Jagr said the 2-0 series lead his team carried into the game last night did not weigh into his decision to sit out.

"I'm going to play when I feel I'm able to help this team, not hurt the team. I think we've got a lot more talented players than we had before. I know that if I were to go out there and play, even if it's with Mario, I'm not going to help him. I'll be there just to be there. It would be like having just four guys out there. We would be short-handed all game long. That's not the way I want to do it."

Jagr was aware that he has been criticized in some circles, locally and nationally, for not playing through his injury.

"It doesn't bother me," he said. "I know myself. If they ever think something like that ... I would never be able to do that. I can't. I don't know how to describe ... I don't know what I would do if I wouldn't play hockey. That's my whole life."

In the first round of the 1999 playoffs, Jagr's dramatic return from a groin injury was the main reason the Penguins were able to upend the top-seeded New Jersey Devils in seven games. But when that series was mentioned to him yesterday, he declined to use it as evidence that he can play through pain.

"This is different," he said. "I was able to play. This is a different injury. You have to remember, I got injured in the first game of that series, and I came back in Game 6. I had 10 days in between. This injury is only four days old. It doesn't heal that quickly."

Jagr was asked how frustrating the past few days have been, particularly considering he made it through the entire regular season with barely a scratch before being rested in the finale.

"It's part of the game," he said. "I'm not the only one who is injured in the playoffs. There are guys on other teams who are injured, too. I don't know why this is such a big deal here."

When a reporter reminded him that it's because of his stature in the sport, Jagr grinned and replied, "Oh, OK. Thank you."

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