- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

Darius Kasparaitis is to opposing hockey players what fire ants are to putting greens something to be avoided at all costs.

If swelling in his left foot goes down, or if a larger skate boot can be found, Pittsburgh's irritating defenseman will be in uniform tonight when the Penguins host New Jersey in Game 3 of the deadlocked Eastern Conference finals. Game 4 is Saturday, also in Mellon Arena.

Kasparaitis is the latest Penguin to turn up injured as the playoffs progress. The exasperating physical defenseman broke bones in two toes on his left foot in the first period of a 4-2 victory Tuesday night. He still returned to play 21 shifts in the final two periods after being told of his injury.

It was also revealed yesterday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that left wing Kevin Stevens has been playing since March 27 with a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

"I could have had [arthroscopic] surgery and it would have put me out 15, 14 days, something like that," Stevens told the newspaper.

In addition, right wing Jaromir Jagr, the reigning NHL scoring champion, has been attempting to play with a separated shoulder and is taking painkiller injections to play. He missed two games in the Buffalo series and basically has been ineffective other than as a decoy, although he skated with more ease Tuesday night.

And there is the fatigue factor. Superstar Mario Lemieux, 35, has acknowledged that he has felt tired as the team he owns advances deeper into postseason, although he looked like a teen-ager when he took control 21 minutes into Game 2, set up two goals and led the Penguins to a stunning come-from-behind win.

The Lithuanian-born Kasparaitis broke the bones when he used his foot to block a shot by the Devils' Petr Sykora. He already had played most of the period and went off after being injured so he could be examined.

"They told me it was broken but I could try it. And I tried it," Kasparaitis told reporters in Pittsburgh yesterday. "I was taking my clothes off [between periods] and I said, 'I got to go play.' He took no painkillers.

Said Pittsburgh general manager Craig Patrick: "I wouldn't be surprised if he plays. It's amazing a guy can play with two broken bones in his foot without any freezing or something to numb the pain. We're not ruling it out, but realistically he should be out for the rest of the playoffs. But when you put your skate on, it's like putting on a cast."

Jagr didn't see much of a chance that Kasparaitis would play tonight.

"It's not going to happen," the right wing said, noting the swollen foot. "Look at his leg. Maybe he could play if they made him a special skate, size 75."

Kasparaitis has never played a full season in the NHL, missing games with a variety of injuries associated with the knees, back and concussions. He has been a take-no-prisoners type of physical defenseman since he was drafted in the first round by the New York Islanders in 1992.

The defenseman made life miserable for Washington's Peter Bondra during the first round of this year's playoffs. Kasparaitis went over the boards every time the Caps' right wing took the ice, hounding and shadowing him to ensure Washington's best offensive weapon didn't go wild (he had two goals in six games).

Stevens has been a key physical force for Pittsburgh during postseason although he is one hit or wrong step away from knee surgery, which he said he will have to have when the season eventually does end.

"I thought it was going to go away but it hasn't," he said.

The left wing said the knee "might lock on me," and if it does that means surgery follows immediately. He said he has trouble pushing off but "skating is part of my game. I want to get in there and forecheck. Sometimes, I can't get there like I want to get in there."

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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