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Penguins have no plans to target McGillis

Saturday, April 01, 2000

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

It's not that the Penguins have forgotten what Dan McGillis did to Jaromir Jagr six days ago.

Penguins Report, 4/1/00


They haven't tried to. Wouldn't want to. And probably couldn't, even if they were so inclined.

No, the sight of Jagr crumpling to the ice after being hit from behind by McGillis, a Philadelphia defenseman, is one they won't shake for a long time.

But with just five games remaining in their regular season and no guarantee they'll qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Penguins won't have the luxury of trying to avenge McGillis' hit when the Flyers visit Mellon Arena at 1:08 p.m. today

For now, the battle royal they had with the Flyers about 14 minutes after Jagr was forced from the game with a bruised upper back -- a skirmish highlighted by defenseman Bob Boughner outpunching McGillis -- is as close as they'll come to trying to even things.

"We made our statement, that we're not going to stand for any cheap shots," Boughner said. "That we're going to stand up for our teammates. Especially Yags."

The Penguins likely will get a chance to do that again today because Jagr, who sat out the past two games because of his back injury, said he hopes to be back in uniform this afternoon.

He took part in yesterday's optional practice at Southpointe and said he felt "pretty good." Better, to be sure, than he did two days earlier, when he found it almost impossible to handle the puck.

Jagr said no decision on playing would be finalized until he has consulted with the coaching staff and trainers, but such determinations invariably are left up to him. Which means that, barring a late setback, he should play.

"If I'm feeling good enough to play, I'm going to play," Jagr said.

He was adamant that he would not consider skipping today's game just to avoid the dangers inherent in a game against the Flyers, who have a rich history of assailing him at every opportunity.

"I'm not worried about it," Jagr said. "I can't go into a hockey game and worry about whether I'm going to get hurt. You won't be able to play well."

Whether McGillis was trying to injure Jagr is conjecture; McGillis was adamant after the game Sunday that he was not. Nonetheless, his hit seemed to have a more profound effect on the rest of the Penguins than it did on Jagr.

For the balance of that game -- and for all of the two that followed -- they played with a passion and focus that had been missing for virtually the entire season.

The Penguins followed up their 3-1 loss at the First Union Center with victories over New Jersey and Washington, the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, and have been getting major contributions from every area of their lineup.

"Every game, we have a new guy who pulls us out," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "That's great. It used to be Jaromir, but now we have a lot of guys scoring. A lot of guys doing good things."

And all of them playing like, well, they have a vested interest in the outcome of games. It's not just a matter of effort; the Penguins are performing with emotion, which might be hockey's most critical variable.

"That's what decides who wins 95 percent of the games, unless the goalie stands on his head," left winger Matthew Barnaby said. "Whoever brings the most emotion to the table every night is going to be the team that wins."

Perhaps, but that bit of wisdom carries an asterisk: The emotion must be controlled, channeled in a productive direction, or it can deteriorate into a negative force. Emotions that run unchecked tend to yield mostly mistakes, penalties and defeats.

"You can be emotional -- that's always great -- but if you get a little too emotional, that's when you start to get in penalty trouble," Barnaby said. "That's where you start losing your focus. Emotion is great, but you have to be under control."

Generating emotion isn't usually a problem when the Flyers are on the other bench, even when the Penguins aren't seeing them for the second time in less than a week.

That's particularly true now, given that they're 0-3-1 against Philadelphia, including a 4-4 tie in their previous meeting here Jan. 23.

Those numbers underscore the importance of a team having its game in sync when facing the Flyers, who are hovering directly behind the Devils and Capitals in the Eastern standings.

"Against Philly, you have to bring your best," Boughner said. "These games -- the ones against Philly and Washington and Jersey -- are the ones that are going to make us a better playoff team."

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