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Cook: Add Kasparaitis to list of heroes

Wednesday, April 25, 2001

The laughs came easily for these two friends, these two defensive partners. The Washington Capitals were dead and buried. It was too soon to start thinking about the Buffalo Sabres and the next round of the playoffs. Darius Kasparaitis and Ian Moran had nothing to do late Monday night but laugh and enjoy the wonderful feeling after the Penguins had eliminated the Capitals with a 4-3 overtime win.

"I like the pain you get when you block a shot," Kasparaitis said.

"You're a sadist," Moran said.

"I think I blocked five tonight," Kasparaitis said, continuing, ignoring Moran.

"You're smarter than me. At least you blocked them with the meaty part of your legs," said Moran, who has a long history of broken bones in his feet from blocking shots.

"I don't mind going down and giving up my body as long as the puck doesn't hit me in my beautiful face," Kasparaitis said.

"A lot of us in here pray for that because it would be an improvement in your case," Moran said.

On and on it went, until Kasparaitis and Moran headed off into the night, presumably to celebrate.

It was amazing they had any energy left after their solid work against the Capitals.

It was amazing Kasparaitis could walk out of Mellon Arena at all.

He was right. He did block five shots in Game 6. He blocked 13 in the series. He blocked two on one shift in the first period Monday night, including a blast by Jeff Halpern. He blocked a rocket by Peter Bondra in the second period. That one especially stung.

"As long as you don't break anything, I like that hurt," Kasparaitis said. "I know it's for the team. That makes me feel good.

"A big block is like a big hit. It pumps up your teammates. It pumps up the crowd. Everyone is excited ...

"Now is the time to pay the price. If you can't do it now, when can you do it? The team that sacrifices the most and pays the biggest price is the team that wins in the playoffs."

Kasparaitis is a big reason the Penguins beat the Capitals. It wasn't just his blocked shots or his 26 hits in the series. It was his and Moran's defense against Bondra's line. Bondra, who scored 45 goals during the season, scored power-play goals in Games 1 and 2, then was shut out in the next four. The Capitals scored just 10 goals, three at even strength.

"I'm proudest of the job we did against them five on five, that we didn't allow them to score," Kasparaitis said. "The guys got on me about the way I moved the puck, but I was concentrating so much on playing defense against Bondra. There was a lot of pressure on us."

The Capitals should have scored only two even-strength goals in Game 6. The Penguins led, 2-0, in the second period Monday night when Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt threw the puck harmlessly toward the Penguins' net. It bounced over Kasparaitis' stick, skipped off his skate and hopped past goaltender Johan Hedberg.

It would have been a shame if that goal had led to a Washington win.

It would have been a nightmare for Kasparaitis.

"I don't even know what happened. It was just a bad break for me and the team," he said. "I don't want to say I was satisfied with my game up to that point, but I was pretty happy with the way I was playing. One mistake like that can get your confidence down a little. It can cost your team the game. I'm just happy we still won."

Now, the Sabres are next. Kasparaitis hopes there will be a lot more laughs. Maybe more than any of the Penguins, he doesn't want to see this season end. It could be his last in Pittsburgh.

Trade speculation swirled around Kasparaitis earlier this year. Although Monday night General Manager Craig Patrick didn't sound like someone looking to make any such deal -- "Darius is a guy who competes every second and does whatever it takes to win." -- there's at least a 50-50 chance he will move him before next season. Kasparaitis, 28, will be a restricted free agent and figures to command a big salary.

Penguins fans will not like a Kasparaitis trade, but they had better be prepared just in case.

Hey, Patrick traded Ulf Samuelsson, didn't he?

"People say I play a little like Ulf," Kasparaitis said, taking it as a compliment, as he should.

"I just hope I get what he got here."

A Stanley Cup.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.

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