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Penguins Penguins Report: 5/5/01

Saturday, May 05, 2001

Compiled by Dave Molinari and Dejan Kovacevic


Game 5: Penguins vs. Sabres, 1:08 p.m. today, HSBC Arena, Buffalo.

TV, radio: WTAE-TV; WWSW-FM (94.5), WBGG-AM (970).

Series: Tied, 2-2.

Penguins: Have lost Game 5 in five of past seven series. ... Are outscoring opponents, 8-4, during first period in these playoffs. ... D Hans Jonsson got an assist in playoff debut but has no points in 18 games since.

Sabres: Have scored on six of 24 power plays at home, despite going 1 for 12 in first two games against Penguins. ... RW Vaclav Varada does not have goal in past 21 playoff games. ... G Dominik Hasek has received team-high 12 penalty minutes.

Hidden stat: Penguins C Mario Lemieux never has gotten an overtime goal -- or assist -- in the playoffs.


The Penguins practiced for about a half-hour at Mellon Arena yesterday after holding a 45-minute meeting to discuss strategy for Game 5. G Garth Snow, who is believed to have a groin problem, was the only player who did not go on the ice. RW Josef Beranek, nursing what team officials describe as a sore groin, was present at the start of the workout but left at about the midpoint and said he is not ready to resume playing.

RW Jaromir Jagr got through the practice without difficulty and, while he claims to have virtually no strength in his injured shoulder, plans to be in the lineup this afternoon. "It's the same," he said. "It's not getting better. It's sore, but it's going to be sore all the time now, until I get a break." Jagr took painkilling pills before Game 4 to numb the injury but said he likely will opt for an injection today. "The pills make me tired," he said. "Sleepy. They numb your whole body, not just [the injured] part."

With Snow, who has backed up Johan Hedberg in each of the first 10 games during these playoffs, apparently injured, Jean-Sebastien Aubin might be in line to move from the press box to the far end of the bench. That means he would be only one injury -- or coach's decision -- from becoming a potentially pivotal figure in the series. And while Aubin, the front-runner to be the Penguins' go-to guy in the postseason until Hedberg emerged as No. 1, has appeared in just one game since mid-March, he insists that he'll be ready to contribute if called upon. "I've been practicing a lot, and a lot harder, staying out with guys after practice and doing stuff that you usually don't do when you play," he said. "It keeps me fresh, if something happens." Aubin, it should be noted, does not foresee Hedberg being removed from a game because of poor play. "[Hedberg] is playing great," he said. "It doesn't matter what happened last game. I know he's going to rebound and play a great game. I don't think they'll need me."

D Darius Kasparaitis, whom many opponents regard as one of the dirtiest players in the league, criticized Toronto RW Tie Domi for dropping New Jersey D Scott Niedermayer with an elbow to the head in the waning seconds of the Maple Leafs' 3-1 victory against the Devils Thursday at the Air Canada Centre. Kasparaitis said he had not seen tape of the incident, in which Domi felled Niedermayer with an unexpected blow far from the play, but did not hide his disapproval for that kind of attack. "You have to have respect for other players," Kasparaitis said. "No matter what kind of price you pay, that's wrong. You have to still respect other people, because we all do the same job."

Sabres C Stu Barnes has reinforced his reputation as a streak scorer lately, picking up three goals in the past three games after failing to score any in the first seven games of the postseason. That doesn't surprise the guys who once played alongside him with the Penguins. "When he gets hot, he can score from anywhere," LW Martin Straka said. "We can't give him anything. We have to be tough on him. Every time we get a chance to hit him, we have to finish him off."

The Penguins have won four consecutive road games, tying Colorado for the longest such streak in these playoffs. Factor in that the Penguins have allowed just three goals during those games and have earned two of those victories in Buffalo, and it's easy to see why they aren't ready to concede a spot in the conference final to Buffalo just yet. And while the HSBC Arena crowd can make some serious noise -- not that it had much occasion to during Games 1 and 2 -- the Penguins don't seem concerned about how much of a factor the fans will be. "They were pretty loud, but I don't think it really matters that much," C Robert Lang said. "A crowd is a crowd."

Buffalo Coach Lindy Ruff invariably has his team well-prepared, and often seems to be one move ahead of the opposing coach. It's entirely possible, then, that Ruff and his staff have anticipated the tactical changes the Penguins will make today and are prepared to counter them. Jagr, though, believes it would be foolish for Ruff to stray from a successful game plan at this point. "You stick with what is working for you," Jagr said. "It's up to the other people, who it's not working for, to change. I don't think he's going to change [anything], because it's worked for them. It would be stupid."


The Sabres practiced for an hour yesterday at HSBC Arena, with all players participating except D Jay McKee, who will miss his third consecutive game because of a concussion. LW Erik Rasmussen, who has missed all of this series because of a separated shoulder, is likely to return to the lineup. Rasmussen, 6 feet 3, 208 pounds, is Buffalo's best hitter and had 12 goals and 19 assists in the regular season.

Buffalo's coaches have spread ice time among their players far more evenly than the Penguins, and they believe it's paying dividends. The Sabres have outscored the Penguins, 3-0, in the third period of each of the past two games. "The one thing that was evident was that we kept coming and coming," Coach Lindy Ruff said. "We didn't ease off the workload, even when we got the lead. We didn't back off. We kept skating extremely well. We kept rolling the lines. What you can do is take shorter shifts and try to drive the tempo up to a point where if they want to keep their best players out that long, it can hurt them."

Earlier in the week, the Sabres appeared to be in abysmal shape on the blue line, with McKee knocked out of the lineup, D Alexei Zhitnik having a mild concussion and D Richard Smehlik hobbled by a deep ankle bruise from the first round. But Zhitnik and Smehlik returned to play at less than full capacity, and the Sabres allowed only three goals in the past two games. "You can't say enough about Alexei or Richard. Both came back to play when they were only 80 percent ready," Ruff said. "But you have to give credit to the forwards for their work defensively. We knew what our situation was, and everyone pitched in."

C Chris Gratton has no goals in this series after scoring an NHL-best five in the first round. But he has made a significant contribution in the faceoff circles, winning 30 of 47 for a success rate of 63.8 percent, best on either team. "The draws only get more important as the series goes on," Gratton said. "It all starts with the faceoff. If you can have the puck right off the bat, that's something each team wants." He said the Penguins' best on draws are C Mario Lemieux "when he really bears down" and C Wayne Primeau.


Friday'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 tonight at Wilkes-Barre's First Union Arena. Blue Jackets C Tyler Wright, the Baby Penguins' first captain during their inaugural season last year, will drop the ceremonial first puck for Game 1.

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