- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NEW YORK (AP) - The only people Sean Avery truly agitated were the referees and his head coach.

The NHL’s premier pest didn’t rattle the Washington Capitals or shake 20-year-old goalie Simeon Varlamov in the New York Rangers’ 4-0 loss in Game 3 of the first-round series on Monday night. More often he found himself on the wrong end of the law, taking four minor penalties and a misconduct.

Avery is most effective when he gets opponents riled up and off their game. He is a detriment to his team when he leaves the Rangers short-handed as he did Monday when the Capitals cut their series deficit to 2-1.

“I played against Sean Avery through junior and the NHL, the minors and stuff, so I know what he’s all about,” said Capitals defenseman John Erskine, who literally turned the other cheek after taking a punch from Avery. “I knew he was going to give me a shot in the face … so I’m ready for it. It doesn’t affect me a whole lot. I just brush it off and skate the other way.”

That might annoy Avery most of all.

He loves the confrontation and hates being ignored, unless it’s by the officials. When he crashed the net and was whistled for goalie interference _ his third penalty of the night _ he threw his hands up in disbelief.

Whether the call was borderline or not, Avery has very little leeway because of his reputation for stirring things up. If he’s looking for the benefit of the doubt, he probably will search for quite some time.

“He had a bump in the road (Monday) night where he got sucked in with Erskine, and that’s a dumb penalty,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said Tuesday. “I think Sean knows that. But I think Sean has done a pretty good job along the way here of trying to keep himself controlled. It’s just not letting anybody getting inside of him, and he can be an effective guy and he has been.

“He was an effective player for us (Monday) night, but he just has to make sure he stays on the edge and on that line and not cross it. At (one) time he did, but it’s one too many times. That’s the key for Sean.”

Avery kept his talking on the ice, choosing not to speak to reporters after practice Tuesday.

“I don’t think we’re really keying in on Sean Avery, but he can be a really effective player,” Erskine said. “He has lots of skill, and when he uses it he is very effective. He can get under a guy’s skin and get guys off their game.

“For us, it’s not so much him but with everybody. We want to play disciplined hockey and be the aggressor, but not be the second guy who goes in and gets a penalty. (Monday) night the refs were calling a lot on him.”

Avery’s latest target was Varlamov, playing his second game in the series and just the eighth of his NHL career. After planting himself in the crease in the closing minutes, Avery took a stick between the legs from Varlamov. Avery got right into the young goalie’s face and had pointed words for him.

Erskine stepped in, and Avery gave Varlamov a parting glove shot to the face as he was led away. Varlamov, a Russian who speaks very little English, seemed unfazed.

“I guess it would be a sign of maturity,” Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said of Varlamov. “I don’t know if he knows Avery well enough to know that that’s his schtick. If you watch after the end of the thing, he took off his mask and wasn’t paying any attention to it. I think he is a very focused young man.”

Washington’s goaltending coach Dave Prior had another theory. Suddenly the language barrier was anything but a bad thing.

“It certainly might have helped him when Mr. Avery was talking to him,” Prior said. “When I asked him what he said, he said, ‘I don’t know, you’d have to ask John Erskine.’”

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