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Penguins Penguins Report: 5/4/01

Friday, May 04, 2001

By Dave Molinari and Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writers

LOOKING AHEAD

Game 5: Penguins vs. Buffalo Sabres, 1:08 p.m. Saturday, HSBC Arena. TV, radio: WTAE; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

PENGUINS NOTEBOOK

Coach Ivan Hlinka gave the Penguins yesterday off. They will practice at 11 a.m. today at Mellon Arena before traveling to Buffalo for Game 5 tomorrow.

Although C Mario Lemieux can do an awful lot of things for his team, one thing the Penguins shouldn't expect from him is inspiring locker-room oratory. Fact is, if Lemieux speaks up, it is probably an indication that things are not going very well. "He's more of a snapper than a speech-giver," LW Kevin Stevens said. "He doesn't say much until things are going pretty bad, and then he'll stand up and let everybody know what he's feeling. It's usually an eye-popping couple of things that he says. He's not going to give you a big speech before, but if we're not doing the things we're supposed to, he'll let you know about it."

With no workout scheduled, G Johan Hedberg was off yesterday, one of the few days he has stayed off the ice since being acquired March 12 from San Jose. Despite being the only goalie the Penguins have used in these playoffs, Hedberg participates in virtually every practice, optional or otherwise. "I like to be moving, get out there and make sure that everything is feeling right," he said. "If there's something you need to adjust, you do it in practice instead of the games. I like to work hard, too. It keeps me in shape." He added that the every-other-day grind of the playoffs hasn't been a problem, even though this is the first time he's gone through it in the NHL. "This is great," he said. "This is how I want it to be. It's so much better for you, mentally, too, when you're playing every second day. You don't have to worry about it. You're always in a game mood. Just keep rolling all the time."

Going into games last night, road teams were 31-27 in these playoffs, and visitors had won each of the first four games in the Penguins-Sabres series. So while Buffalo undoubtedly will be delighted to have Game 7, if necessary, at HSBC Arena, there's been little evidence that home ice will be a decisive factor in this series. "We don't really care where we play," Stevens said. "I don't think they care where they play. We could go anywhere and play them."

Hedberg had his worst performance of the playoffs Wednesday, stopping just 23 of 28 shots during the Sabres' 5-2 victory, but there is no indication Hlinka will consider starting Garth Snow or Jean-Sebastien Aubin -- neither of whom has played a second since the regular season ended -- in Game 5. "[Hedberg] already has had some great games," Hlinka said. "And I believe he will have a great game on Saturday."

Third-line C Wayne Primeau broke into the NHL with the Sabres and still has an occasional conversation with former teammates such as Erik Rasmussen and Curtis Brown. And while he said that "it's always in the back of your mind, that you want to seek a little bit of revenge," Primeau said that he's more interested in winning the series than in making Sabres management feel that it erred by trading him to Tampa Bay. "[The trade] was more or less my decision," he said. "I wanted to try and see how more [playing time] would help my career. See if I could get some of my scoring touch back. And I still struggled a little bit in Tampa, maybe because it was such a young team and losing all the time, the way we were. It was pretty hard." Primeau's brother, Keith, is a center with Philadelphia, which the Sabres beat during Round 1. There wasn't much need for Primeau to ask him for suggestions on how to beat the Sabres, though. "I was there for 3 1/2, four years, so I know a lot about these guys," he said. "There's not really much to ask."

D Andrew Ference has done a lot of things well during these playoffs, but growing a playoff beard is not on that list. And probably won't be anytime soon. Ference has sprouted just a few wisps of hair on the sides of his face, along with a modest clump on his chin, even though, by his own admission, he began working on the beard at the start of the playoffs. Ference allowed that "it's a little choppy" and agreed that "without a doubt," he's better at performing in playoffs than at growing a beard for them.

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, as the Penguins' first-round series with Washington moved into its final games, Jagr suggested 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." Whether missing Games 2 and 3 because of a shoulder injury will help or hurt Jagr during the rest of this series -- did it give him a chance to conserve energy or take the edge of his conditioning and skills? -- remains to be seen.

SABRES NOTEBOOK

The Sabres had a meeting at HSBC Arena in Buffalo yesterday, but only the players who have been healthy scratches took to the ice for an informal workout afterward. The team is scheduled to resume practicing this morning.

Buffalo could have its best open-ice hitter back in the lineup for Game 5. LW Erik Rasmussen, out since April 21 because of a separated shoulder, has been practicing with the team for more than a week and feels he might have made enough progress to be ready to play. D Jay McKee, out of the lineup since Game 2 because of a concussion, will not play.

To pick apart the Penguins' left-wing lock system, Sabres Coach Lindy Ruff has sent his fastest forwards -- usually RW Maxim Afinogenov or LW Jean-Pierre Dumont -- knifing through the Penguins' defense in the neutral zone without the puck. Someone else then chips the puck softly along the side boards or hard into the corners, and it's the job of those speedy players to chase it down. An equally significant reason Buffalo has been able to bottle up the Penguins in their zone is that the Sabres' defensemen have been aggressive in pinching along the boards to keep the puck deep. It's a system identical to one Kevin Constantine employed with the Penguins during the 1999 playoffs, in which a defenseman is allowed to dart forward if they see a loose puck as long as a forward slides back to cover for him.

It has not hurt the Sabres' cause that some of Ruff's tinkering with his lines has paid off. Afinogenov was quiet for the first two games but has emerged as a force since being placed on a new No. 1 unit alongside C Doug Gilmour and LW Miroslav Satan. "It's a different chemistry we have," Satan said. "Maybe they weren't expecting it, and we were able to create two or three crucial plays to change the game every time we played together. Maybe they will adjust. Maybe they won't."

Buffalo's new No. 2 unit of C Stu Barnes, RW Donald Audette and Dumont has been no less effective, having netted two even-strength goals in Game 4. Barnes scored twice -- once on the power play -- and drew most of the headlines, but Dumont might have been the most effective forward on either team. He had a goal and an assist, four shots, three hits and a plus-2 rating. He also appeared to get under the skin of several of the Penguins' players.

The Sabres have beaten Penguins G Johan Hedberg eight times in the past two games, compared to once in the first two. Barnes said most of the credit should go to how hard the forwards have worked, but he also mentioned how much the players have studied Hedberg's tendencies as the series has developed. "We knew about him before we started playing him, but you still try to learn," Barnes said. "You watch him, period by period, and try to see what's effective, then go from there. I think we're getting better."

A Sabres official reported late yesterday afternoon that more than 500 tickets remained for Game 5. Buffalo did not sell out Game 1 at HSBC Arena but drew a capacity crowd of 18,690 for Game 2.

MINOR-LEAGUE REPORT
THURSDAY'S RESULT

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON (7-4) did not play. The Baby Penguins open the best-of-seven Western Conference final of the Calder Cup playoffs against Hershey tomorrow at Wilkes-Barre's First Union Arena. The Eastern Conference final between Providence and Saint John begins tonight. The Baby Penguins have the two highest-scoring defensemen in the AHL playoffs: Chris Kelleher has a goal and 12 assists, Michal Rozsival two goals and 10 assists.

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