Originally created 05/08/00

Flyers confident but wary of Penguins comeback



PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins will have history on their side Tuesday as they try to force their ever-unpredictable playoff series with the Flyers back to Philadelphia for Game 7.

History, perhaps, but maybe not Jaromir Jagr.

Given a choice between the two, the Penguins would prefer Jagr, who was limited by a leg injury to a just few shifts in the Flyers' 6-3 victory Sunday.

Jagr, the NHL's leading scorer during the season and the playoffs, did not practice Monday, and the Penguins sent mixed signals whether he would be ready. He missed most of the final six weeks of the regular season with thigh and hamstring injuries.

"As well as he has played, it would be natural to say, `Oh, my, what are we going to do if he can't play?' " Penguins forward Robert Lang said. "But it's not a big deal. We've got to go out and play."

But it is a big deal, and the Flyers and Penguins know it.

The seventh-seeded Penguins were a different team early in the series as Jagr scored five goals in the first three games. But, with Jagr clearly hurting since scoring two goals in Game 3, apparently with a reoccurrence of the thigh injury, the Flyers have won three in a row.

The Penguins have rallied from 3-2 deficits four times since 1991, including their first-round upset of New Jersey last season. Then, Jagr, who wasn't expected to play because of a groin injury, unexpectedly came off the bench to score the tying and winning goals as the Penguins won Game 6 in overtime.

Now, a year later, the possibility exists for a similar scenario. Jagr said Sunday there was a 90 percent chance he would play, but the Penguins sounded slightly less optimistic Monday.

"We can't rely on Jaromir Jagr to win the game for us," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said. "I hope history is on our side again, but you can't look at it that way."

Coach Herb Brooks also said he wasn't sure about Jagr's status, but said, "We haven't had the pleasure of using him at full strength."

The top-seeded Flyers, who, like the Penguins, had a very short workout Monday, plan to go into Game 6 expecting the worst -- Jagr in uniform and the Penguins desperate to keep the series, and their season, going.

"I expect he'll come out playing," Flyers coach Craig Ramsay said. "He's a great competitor. Everyone's seen him over the years come up with big games at big times. We expect the best from Jaromir Jagr."

While the Flyers already know they can win in Pittsburgh -- they won two overtime games there last week to regain control of the series -- they seem eager to avoid a Game 7.

We have to play equally desperate to get it over with because we definitely don't want to come back for Game 7," rookie goaltender Brian Boucher said. "If we get off our game, the results will be what happened in Games 1 and 2."

Then, the Flyers tried matching the Penguins fancy shot for fancy shot and allowed the Penguins to clear out the front of the net. They also didn't get much forechecking from their defensemen, thus reducing the opportunities to throw multiple shots at goaltender Ron Tugnutt.

But rookie defenseman Andy Delmore has since scored five goals, as many as Jagr has in the series. Flyers' defensemen outscored their forwards 4-2 in Game 5 as Delmore scored three goals.

"We have to play our game," said Mark Recchi, who had a goal and four assists Sunday. "Our game is defense first and let everything else happen. The first two games, we tried to run and gun and push it offensively with them. We can't do that. We know that.

"They have too many dangerous players out there who just thrive on picking you apart. We had to get back to playing our game."

Still, unless they suddenly start getting goals from several players who have had a quiet series -- namely, Josef Beranek, Alexei Kovalev and Rene Corbet -- the Penguins may have only one game left to play.

One other history note: The Penguins never have failed to win at home at least once in any playoff series that lasted at least six games.

"We were two shots away from a sweep and now we're one game behind," Tugnutt said. "That's how quickly it can change. When you're playing every other day, it's a new opportunity, and that's how we have to look at it. Every game is a new game."