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Kasparaitis, Penguins KO Blackhawks

Monday, December 27, 1999

By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

CHICAGO -- Darius Kasparaitis welcomed the challenge with open arms.

He knew the Chicago Blackhawks would come at him hard, that the sticks would be high, the words nasty.

And he licked his lips.

"I love when it happens," Kasparaitis said. "It keeps me in the game, gets me going. Hopefully, the other team doesn't concentrate on hockey and just tries killing people. That's what happened here."

    More Penguins coverage

Penguins Report


Kasparaitis and the Penguins responded with a deliciously satisfying, 4-2 knockout of the Blackhawks at the United Center last night, thwarting Chicago's bid for revenge for a check he delivered three months ago.

The victory was the Penguins' third in a row, pushing their record to 15-16-3 and 7-2 since Herb Brooks took over behind the bench. It also allowed them to pass the Buffalo Sabres for sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. And it marked their first win at the United Center in six tries.

But perhaps no facet of this victory was as important to the Penguins as their resiliency in the face of an angry opponent known more for fisticuffs than finesse.

The Blackhawks had vowed to pursue Kasparaitis after he caught Chicago right winger J.P. Dumont with an elbow and knocked him out Oct. 16 in Pittsburgh. The NHL suspended Kasparaitis two games for that incident, but that wasn't enough to placate anyone in these parts.

As right winger Tony Amonte reiterated yesterday, "It was a pretty physical game, that last one, and Kasparaitis put our young rookie out. We've got pretty good memories around here."

And it didn't slip past the Blackhawks that the Penguins chose yesterday to bring up enforcer Dennis Bonvie from the minor leagues. Sure, he was tied for the Baby Penguins' scoring lead with 23 points, but the 205 penalty minutes he compiled in Wilkes-Barre are a far more accurate reflection of his strong suit.

"I guess that Pittsburgh deemed that they might come in here and face a physical game, so they recalled him," said Lorne Molleken, associate head coach. "I know what he brings to a team. He's the kind of guy who will do whatever is necessary to stick up for his teammates."

Usually, that entails dropping the gloves.

"My role is to play rough and tough and to do what I do best," Bonvie said. "If the rough stuff comes, it comes. But I'm not looking to go out there and fight two or three times. If there's a problem, I'll go out and do what has to be done. That's been my bread and butter."

It didn't take him long to show the Penguins exactly that.

No more than five seconds into his first shift, Bonvie rolled up the sleeves and went hard for two minutes with Ryan VandenBussche for what would prove to be the evening's lone bout. But that was just about all the energy the Penguins showed in the first 20 minutes. They were outshot, 8-5, badly outhit and perhaps a bit fortunate they trailed just 1-0.

Amonte scored the Blackhawks' goal, his team-leading 18th, at 13:22 while short-handed. He intercepted a lateral pass by Penguins defenseman Michal Rozsival, skated through the neutral zone, took one stride across the blue line and wristed a shot inside the far post past goaltender Peter Skudra.

The Penguins regained control early in the second period. After buzzing the Chicago zone for several minutes, they were rewarded when center Ian Moran tied the score with his third goal of the season at 7:33. Defenseman Peter Popovic kept the puck in at the right point and moved it to Moran, who fired a wrist shot past goaltender Jocelyn Thibault from the high slot.

Then things got nasty.

During a stoppage at 10:30, Chicago defenseman Brad Brown began shoving Jaromir Jagr, prompting every skater on the ice to take a man. And when Blackhawks defenseman Bryan McCabe spotted center Doug Gilmour squaring off with Aleksey Morozov, he skated over and jumped Morozov from behind. Referee Bill McCreary -- working the game alone in what could be construed as a curious decision by the NHL given the hype -- evened out the penalties and had the teams skate four-on-four.

None of the physical play should surprise any casual observer of Chicago games this season.

"All we do is play to our strengths," Molleken said. "We've established our forecheck, we've been physical in our zone and, as a result, we've shut teams down. It's nice to see guys get rewarded for the hard work."

Sometimes, however, that reward is a trip to the penalty box.

At 12:26 of the second, Chicago left winger Bob Probert was whistled for roughing Kasparaitis. And when Probert tried to goad Kasparaitis into joining him, Kasparaitis turned and briskly skated to the Penguins' bench. Predictably, he was booed heavily, but Kasparaitis was the one cheering a minute later.

Jagr scored on the ensuing power play at 13:37, taking a feed from defenseman Jiri Slegr and snapping a shot from above the right hash that went in and out of the net before Thibault reacted.

The rough stuff continued, however, costing the Penguins the services of their goaltender at 17:05, when Dumont skated past Skudra and caught him with a stick to the head. That pushed Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who hadn't played since a 5-1 loss a week ago in Montreal, into action. Neither the severity nor the precise nature of Skudra's injury was immediately known.

The Penguins netted a quick two-goal lead to start the third period, and it started with an effective shift by Bonvie.

After setting up a two-on-one which ultimately failed, he registered the check of the game when he drove Brown into the end boards behind the Chicago goal. As Bonvie skated out of the zone, he was slashed by VandenBussche, but the penalty never had a chance to be served. Just seconds later, Penguins center Tyler Wright one-timed a pass from Robert Dome for a 3-1 lead at 3:17. It was Wright's second goal in as many games, remarkable when you consider he went without one in his previous 100.

Aubin stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced, the Penguins killed off two penalties and Jagr nailed an empty net at 18:38 for his 27th goal -- passing Owen Nolan of the San Jose Sharks for the league lead -- to close it out. The Blackhawks cut the lead to 4-2 on a goal by left winger Dean McAmmond 25 seconds after Jagr's second goal, but it mattered little.

As for Kasparaitis, he dealt with adversity in customary fashion: He dished out far more than he received. Although the Blackhawks lined him up with great frequency throughout the evening, few connected. Meanwhile, Kasparaitis delivered no fewer than three booming open-ice hits, his biggest coming against McAmmond midway though the first period.

And for his efforts, he was named the game's No. 2 star.

"I've been playing this way for eight years," Kasparaitis said. "Maybe someday people will realize I like this."

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