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Guerin goes from expendable to dependable

by Larry Wigge
Call it a tale of two cities. The best of times and the worst of times. One city reloading, the other rebuilding.

The story of Pittsburgh, Pa. vs. Uniondale, N.Y. -- the teams that dominated the NHL in the early 1980s and 1990s -- centered around the talents and skill remaining in the 6-foot-2, 220-pound power forward frame of Bill Guerin. It became an epic Shakespearian play the other day when Islanders coach Scott Gordon said his young team was better off having traded its former captain, whom he intimated had become bitter and was sending off bad vibes to an impressionable group of youngsters.

"We had a couple of bad apples that we got rid of," Gordon said. "As a result of that, the chemistry in the room is what you would expect from a team that pulls together."

The comments turned a deadline-day trade into drama after the fact. But those same comments became more and more curious when you consider the way Guerin has played for the Penguins. He has become an integral part of the Penguins' return as a contender for the Stanley Cup after being eliminate in the Final by Detroit last spring.

Can two stories involving the same player be so opposite? Interesting dilemma, isn't it? Well, it needn't be. I agree with Shakespeare, who loved to throw slings and arrows around in his plays for cause and effect. But he also coined the phrase, "Much ado about nothing."

Hey, I covered Bill Guerin when he played for a bad St. Louis team. He left in a trade deadline deal looking for a Stanley Cup in San Jose just two short years ago. He didn't find it there, but there were no hard feelings. None were needed. It was business -- one team out of the playoffs looking for futures, the other one looking to win a championship.

I also seem to remember a similar situation in Hartford in 1996-97 with Brendan Shanahan, who often commented like he was Napoleon in exile on an island away from the rest of the hockey world with the Whalers. Some in Hartford said he was jaded. Bitter. Wanted out. Fine. He moved on. All he did was go to Detroit and win two straight Stanley Cups and three in six seasons.

In a world where we have all of these CSI episodes, the DNA doesn't change. Yet on Long Island, we had a problem. With the same player in Pittsburgh, we have an awakening, where Penguins fans are wondering if this team could possibly be better than the one from last year's Stanley Cup finalists.

Two very different stories basically revolving around one player. Leaderless in one. Leader in the other.

Listen to new Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma on Guerin's ability to make a play for the team ... without his stick.

"Billy lost his stick and figured out he didn't need a stick to do what he was supposed to do, which was stand in front of the goalie and be presence in front of the net, create a screen," Bylsma said. "When you have that kind of presence, shots from anywhere become dangerous."

Did Bill Guerin all of a sudden transform from bitter to productive overnight? Of course not.

This is a story of two cities. Two situations. Two cultures. We didn't need Shakespeare's slings and arrows.

Can't we just sit back and hope that Gordon and Garth Snow are the playwrights for a Long Island rebirth similar to the previous Islanders dynasty, while we also root for Bill Guerin perhaps finding the right part in the play he's now a part of in Pittsburgh?

Tale of two cities, Part Deux? -- Sometimes you take the joy you've been giving and enjoy it and hope it continues. You don't read something into it that may not be there.

It's like that whole Vinny Lecavalier coming from Montreal and wanting to play for the Canadiens thing that causes so many trade rumors. In Vancouver, there are some who are reading the same kind of ramifications into a few comments All-Star goalie Roberto Luongo made the other day about a prospective new contract he may get from the Canucks.

"First and foremost, I want to win a Cup. Whichever team is going to give me the best chance to do that is the team I want to be with," Luongo said.

That was translated like he can't wait to leave Vancouver when his contract expires after next season. In his defense, Luongo said, "I like our team here. I think we can do some damage in the playoffs. I think we have a team with a chance to win the Cup."

On the contract, he added, "I've played 10 years in this League and haven't had much success (no playoffs in his first six seasons with the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers before moving to Vancouver, where he'll have a playoff shot for the second time in three seasons). I play to win. I think I'm deserving of having a chance to win the Cup -- and hopefully that comes with Vancouver."

Now it's up to the Canucks and General Manager Mike Gillis to keep the quality of his team up and make Roberto Luongo want to stay, right?

A tale of one city -- New Jersey Devils All-world goaltender Marty Brodeur said he didn't want to cause a distraction with his team after it went 32-17-1 with Scott Clemmensen primarily filling in so ably while he recovered from bicep surgery. Pish tosh.

After running off nine wins in his first 10 starts in his return, Brodeur stepped back and said this excitedly about his team, "The guys are all hungry -- young guys who've never won and the veterans who are back like Brendan Shanahan, Bobby Holik, Brian Rolston, who have been here before and know that it means to be a Devil and try for another Stanley Cup."

Uh 1, uh 2, uh 3 -- Crunch time? Yeah, I know it's been crunch time for some teams since the first of the year. But it's really crunch time now. And the biggest threat to upset the apple chart is ...

Drum roll please, three-point games.

"You do use 20-20 vision and look back and think of all the games we didn't get that extra point," Minnesota Wild winger Andrew Brunette said recently.

And yet, here we are ready to talk about points available ... and points frittered away, because the races in both the Eastern and Western conferences are that close.

Florida Panthers coach Peter DeBoer was lamenting a part of that three-point scenario this week, when he was asked about his team's failure in shootouts (three-for-eight).

"When you're coaching a team that relies on the sum of its parts more than its individual skill, the fact that we lose points on what I consider an individual skill play after you've battled for 65 minutes under a team concept ... well, it's tough to swallow," he said.

Are the Ducks quacking? -- Just two years ago, the Anaheim Ducks were the toast of the hockey world after winning the Stanley Cup from the Ottawa Senators. Maybe that's why it looked a little peculiar that they were struggling so much to just make it to the playoffs this year ... until recently.

Said leading scorer Ryan Getzlaf, "We're playing desperate hockey right now. The situation is pretty much do or die from here on out. Every night is a playoff game for us -- and it's nice to see that we're recognizing the situation we're in."

Marian no librarian -- For months, we've wondered if All-Star winger Marian Gaborik would still be with the Minnesota Wild during the stretch run and later if he'd be healthy enough to contribute at all. After being injured for 65 games, Gaborik has answered the most important question: Can he still contribute?

With 2 goals and 2 assists, Gabby kept Minnesota's playoff hopes alive with a 6-2 victory on Long Island on March 25.

"He's just a catalyst on this team right now," coach Jacques Lemaire explained. "He's playing as good as he was when he was at his best."

For Auld Lang's Syne -- Sometimes when taking a veteran player like Robert Lang smack dab out of the middle of a lineup, like what happened in Montreal when Lang sustained a season-ending severed Achilles' tendon, even a team as strong as the Canadiens can struggle.

Consider for a moment that Lang had points in 34 of his team's 50 games, was leading the Canadiens with 18 goals and was second with 39 points, plus was a key part of the Habs power play.

"You hope you have the depth to fill in," said veteran Alex Tanguay. "But he's been hard to replace."

New definition of the Motor City -- Marian Hossa continues to say he'd love to get a new contract worked out so he could finish his career in Detroit. He admits he joined the Red Wings on a one-year contract as a free agent last summer because he thought it would give him his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup.

He had 37 goals after scoring in a 3-2 victory in Edmonton on March 24 -- and he elaborated on a driving force that might find him back in Detroit again, when he said, "It's been a blast for me to play here. Getting to play with great players, I've found out one thing: They always seem to be able to get the puck to you; you've got it on your stick -- and that's a big difference from when you always seem to be playing without it."

A new motor in Manhattan, too -- When the New York Rangers beat Buffalo, 5-3, on March 21, it was the sixth time they had scored four or more goals in the 11 games since John Tortorella took over as coach -- they had achieved four or more goals only six times in the last 37 games that Tom Renney coached.

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said of Tortorella's 7-3-1 start, "We're getting involved in the games, we've started playing faster. The coaches have definitely give us more confidence."

Coaching 101 -- Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett took his team to the Western Conference Finals last year before they lost to Detroit. This year? The Stars are struggling to make it to Lord Stanley's dance.

Said Tippett, "Every day is a new challenge. As a coach, you embrace that challenge and try to get the most out of your team. Some days just happen to be a little more challenging than others. But you don't look for excuses. You don't have excuses for trying to be successful."

A Blue Jays closer? -- Curtis Joseph came off the Toronto Maple Leafs bench Tuesday to replace Martin Gerber in goal after Gerber bumped the referee in a dispute over the Washington goal that tied the score at 2-2 with 57 seconds left in the third period and was given a game misconduct. Joseph made one save in regulation time, eight in overtime, and he stopped all three shootout attempts by the Capitals to earn a 3-2 victory for Toronto. It was the 453rd regular-season win of Cujo's 19-year NHL career but it was his first win ever in a regular-season game he did not start. Joseph has won once as a reliever in the playoffs, for the Flames in Game 3 of their first-round series against the Sharks in 2008.

"I could do the closer's role, I like it," Joseph said, laughing that he hardly worked up a sweat. "Sometimes starting pitchers move to closers later in their career. It was fun. Maybe that should be my role."

A Masters moment -- We've been praising the performance of so many first-year players this season. But Los Angeles Kings coach Terry Murray, who has had a lot of practice with youngsters this season, raves even more about how there's an even bigger step than just going from college or juniors to the NHL, saying, "It's like completely changing your golf swing coming to the NHL. There's the swing, plus the entire mental approach to playing with discipline, accountability and more. You can't just grip it and rip it."

Not feeling the draft? -- Kyle Okposo, who was the seventh player picked in the 2006 Entry Draft, would love nothing better than to add a John Tavares or Victor Hedman with one of the top two picks in this year's draft to help in the New York Islanders rebuilding plans. But he'd also like to have the run his young teammates are having at the end of this season carry over to next season.

"We know a lot of people talk about that, but we don't," Okposo said. "We're trying to win games and play the best we can. We want to build a chemistry here that begins and ends with winning. Next season has already started for us -- and we don't want to waste these games by thinking about something we can't control.

"Let's face it, there are some great young players out there. But you never know how a player's gonna turn out. So, we're not thinking about the draft at all."

What's it all about, Alfie? -- Daniel Alfredsson had three assists in Ottawa's 5-2 victory over the Islanders March 21. It was Alfredsson's 11th multiple-point game in the 21 games he's played since Feb. 1, one more than the number of multi-point games he had this season in 46 games through the end of January.

Said Alfredsson, "Since the coaching change (Cory Clouston replacing Craig Hartsburg), we're playing an up-tempo game and playing with a lot of confidence. We're giving ourselves a chance to win -- and that's more than we could have hoped for a few months ago."

Things that make you go hmmmmmm -- One of my favorite feel-good stories of the year came in mid-October when a youngster named Cal Clutterbuck was called up by Minnesota to fill in for injured veteran Owen Nolan. He thought he'd be back in Houston in 24 hours. But he played his way into the hearts of the Wild management and fans with his robust hitting style, leaving his car at the airport in Houston at a 40-day limit parking spot. Now, here he is breaking the NHL record with 317 hits. ... Another hit is Chicago's Patrick Kane, whose shootout goal gave the Blackhawks a 6-5 victory against San Jose on March 25. Great skill? You bet. His 10-for-17 in shootouts is third behind Colorado's Wojtek Wolski (13 for 18) and New Jersey's Patrik Elias (8 for 13) in shootouts over the last two seasons. ... Alex Ovechkin became the first NHL player to reach the 50-goal mark this season. He was also the first player to score 50 goals last season. Since 1992-93, the only other NHL player to be the first to 50 in consecutive seasons was Pavel Bure for Florida in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. ... If you don't think that Florida's Stephen Weiss appreciates his Canadian heritage, consider that of the 12 goals he's scored six have come in 13 games he's played against Canadian-based teams -- three goals vs. Toronto and one each vs. Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa. ... San Jose defenseman Rob Blake recently scored his 10th goal of the season for the 13th time -- tying him with Mathieu Schneider for second-most among active NHL defensemen, behind Nicklas Lidstrom (15 times). ... Reload? The job that Columbus GM Scott Howson has down in just two seasons is remarkable, putting his team in a playoff position for the first time. For the record, Howson acquired 15 of the 22 players on their current roster in less than two years after taking over for Doug MacLean. ... Bobby Ryan didn't make his NHL debut until Nov. 16, but he's already surpassed Dustin Penner's Anaheim record for rookie points with 46. ... When Rob Niedermayer played in his 1,000th NHL game recently, he and his brother Scott became the fourth set of brothers in league history to play in 1,000 games -- joining Russ and Geoff Courtnall, Kevin and Derian Hatcher and Brent and Ron Sutter. ... Bet you didn't know that Ducks forward Corey Perry has seven two-goal games over the last two seasons and all have been on the road? ... There were a lot of teams that called Atlanta before the NHL trade deadline to see if they could steal center Todd White from the Thrashers. White not only is good on faceoffs and has accountability on defense, but his 46 assists and 11 power-play goals rank him among the NHL's top 15 players in those categories. Oh, and don't forget he's smart -- what with his All-Academic honors in accounting and finance when he attended Clarkson University. ... Tough at home. Yeah that's the ticket for teams in the stretch run -- like Carolina. Of course, goalie Cam Ward has had a little to do with that -- allowing two or fewer goals in 17 of Carolina's past 23 home games with his 2-1 victory over Ottawa on March 25. ... Hard shots? Add Carolina's Anton Babchuk to this list. After getting only four goals in his first 48 games this season, he's scored nine times in 18 games since -- the most by any defenseman since Feb. 19. ... Can you say deja vu when talking about the brilliance Edmonton goalie Dwayne Roloson and compare it to 2006 when he was obtained from Minnesota at the trade deadline and if not for an injury in Game 1 of the finals might have led the Oilers to the Stanley Cup? ... Five days off between games before the Boston Bruins play at Toronto on Saturday has given coach Claude Julien the opportunity to send his troops through some meaningful practice sessions designed to regain the focus, discipline and sharpness they had for most of the earlier part of the season. Look out Toronto. ... Seeing Ryan Miller back on the ice for full workout duties is only a reminder of how much the Buffalo Sabres missed him while he was recovering from a high left ankle sprain. ... The under-the-radar physical Calgary Flames have been looking at their calendar for a while now at their late March games against Detroit followed by Pittsburgh as a statement of where their game is heading down the stretch. They got a convincing win over the Red Wings, but were blanked 2-0 in Pittsburgh. I guess there's still work to do, eh? ... Power forward Scott Hartnell is more than on the radar in Philadelphia. The 26-year-old left winger is having a career-year with 27 goals and 56 points. Not to mention becoming a cult hero with his bushy brown hair that sparked a bight in his honor March 26, when Hartnell wigs were handed out to the first 5,000 fans 14 and under through the turnstiles. Said captain Mike Richards, "With that hair, he's the most recognizable sports figure in Philadelphia."

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