Washington Capitals winger Jaromir Jagr entered Game 1 of the first-round playoff series with Tampa Bay tonight still battling a broken bone in his wrist, but feeling much better than he did when the regular season concluded.
Jagr, the premier playoff performer in this series, missed two weeks with his wrist in a cast and played Washington's final six games, although he was not himself. Jagr's stick-handling was off and he rarely shot the puck while adapting to his injury. He led the NHL in shots on goal for most of the season -- averaging four shots per game in his first 69 games -- but took only 10 total shots in the final six contests. He had one shot in tonight's 3-0 Capitals win.
"You have to change some things when you have an injury like that," Jagr said. "You get it in your head that you have to pass and you have to start thinking again that you want to shoot the puck."
The Lightning plans to give him little open space. Tampa Bay's checking line of Tim Taylor, Dave Andreychuk and Chris Dingman will play against Jagr's line, and they are taking a subtle approach to defending him, avoiding the wear and tear that comes with physical contact.
"I think the more physical you are with him, the better he responds," Taylor said. "We'll try to stick-check him a lot and deny the puck on his stick. If you go in the corner and lose your body position a bit bumping into him and then he flies out of the corner, that's what he wants."
The Capitals must devise a way to beat Nikolai Khabibulin, the NHL's best goalie down the stretch, and Jagr's propensity for firing from strange angles could bode well. Khabibulin will stop almost everything he sees, but could be caught off guard by unorthodox shots.
Capitals rookie center Brian Sutherby would relish the opportunity to exact some punishment on Tampa Bay rookie center Alexander Svitov in this playoff series, but not at his team's expense. Svitov spat on Sutherby's left cheek during the 2001 world junior championships, when Sutherby's Canadian team led Russia, 5-1, in a crucial game.
"The game was pretty heated all around and we just got in each other's face and we were [talking] a little bit and he spit on me," Sutherby said of an incident that was caught on video tape. "I was pretty shocked at first and I looked at the ref and he didn't know what to do and I just had to try to control my emotions, because it was such a big game and . . . if I did what I wanted to do I would have probably been thrown out of the tournament."
Sutherby had several verbal confrontations with Svitov during the three games they played against each other this season, and Svitov balked when challenged to a fight in their first NHL meeting.
"It was no time to do anything selfish, so I fought that urge to do something to him," Sutherby said. "But I'll never forget about it, that's for sure. It showed a total lack of respect and he crossed the line in hockey terms. I'll never forget about that."
Svitov denied spitting on Sutherby when asked through an interpreter, adding: "I can take care of myself; if anything happens I can answer. If not me than someone else."
The Capitals entered the series with no players out of the lineup because of injury. Forwards Stephen Peat, Alex Henry, Ivan Ciernik and Josh Green were scratched, as were defensemen Jean-Francois Fortin, Rick Berry and Josef Boumedienne. . . . Tampa Bay defenseman Brad Lukowich returned from a six-game absence to an orbital bone injury to play last night. . . . Capitals Coach Bruce Cassidy said he was not nervous preparing for his first playoff game: "I've never been the nervous type; I just want to get this thing started."