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Penguins Sabres' Brown an active pest

Monday, May 07, 2001

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

As the Buffalo Sabres' checking center, Curtis Brown's job is to irk and irritate, to hook and hold, to pull back his share of faceoffs and perform a few face-washes.

Anything to keep his opponent from scoring.

Ask him to describe his duty, and it will sound as if he is reading from a union-shop manual.

"The way I see it, you always have to work," Brown said. "You can never quit on a play, never let a guy go. You know that if you work hard out there to take away your opponent's time and space away, you can limit them. You might not shut them down, but you can limit them. It's all about work."

Brown backs that up on the ice, having established himself in his five full NHL seasons as one of the league's peskiest defensive forwards. He employs every inch of his 6-foot, 196-pound frame, every step of his outstanding quickness and every iota of his energy in a relentless pursuit of the other team's top scorer.

What doesn't make sense in these Stanley Cup playoffs is how he has enough leftover fuel to contribute to the offense the way he has.

In 11 postseason games, Brown has five goals, half as many as he had in 72 regular-season games and roughly five more than he had expected to score in the playoffs.

"It's just an odds thing," Brown said. "You want to try and get pucks to the net and get yourself in good situations to make plays. ... I'm just trying to go out there and work hard and, obviously, they're going in for me right now."

The Penguins know it.

Brown has a goal in each of the past three games in this second-round series, and none of them would show up on a highlight reel. The first was deflected, the second was an easy tap-in, and the third was knocked into the net by the Penguins. But the latter two were short-handed, and all of them came in victories, underscoring their importance.

To boot, his defensive work hasn't suffered in the slightest.

In the first round, he was matched against Philadelphia Flyers center Keith Primeau. Despite giving up 5 inches and 24 pounds, Brown scored twice, including one in overtime of Game 4, while Primeau finished with no goals and four assists.

In this round, his task has been to hound Mario Lemieux, and he couldn't rate a higher grade for his effort. Lemieux has one goal and five assists in the series, his goal coming in Game 1 during a four-on-four with Brown on the bench and only one of those assists coming at even strength with Brown on the ice.

"No question, Brownie's been really good for us," Buffalo center Stu Barnes said. "He's had tough assignments. He had Primeau, and now he's got Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. I mean, that's three of the top 10 players in the league. ... And not only has he played well defensively, but he's also scored some huge, huge goals for us."

Just as important, Brown appears to have riled the Penguins to the point of becoming a distraction.

In Game 5, Brown and Jagr, Lemieux's linemate, received coincidental roughing minors in the second period. And late in the third, Jagr and Brown again collided, prompting Jagr to lose his cool, hog-tie Brown and slam him to the ice for an ill-advised holding penalty.

Still, Brown seemed to bristle when asked if he had gotten under the skin of Lemieux and Jagr.

"I didn't see if anyone was that annoyed or upset," he said. "Obviously, it's a battle out there, and you've got to do whatever you can to try to win those battles. These guys are great players, but you can't back down. You've got to work your hardest every shift."

The Sabres have shown plenty of character in clawing back from an 0-2 deficit in this series to put themselves in a position to reach the Eastern Conference final with a victory in Game 6 tomorrow at Mellon Arena.

And the personality of the team might be best embodied by the unwavering, unflappable Brown.

"Our whole team has something you can't teach. It's got to be learned," Brown said. "We got ourselves into some situations like this over the past few years, but we always look at ourselves and say that we're not going to quit, that we're going to keep working hard. That's exactly what we did, all of us."

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