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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins

Friday, February 13, 2004

Holy Zhitnik! Branko Radivojevic Rules!

The general consensus among the sports world is that regular season NHL games are boring, devoid of excitement, and that players just play out the games while they wait for the playoffs. To those of you that think that, I'm sorry you missed last night's Rangers-Flyers game.

If every regular season game had the intensity and excitement of this one, people wouldn't be complaining that there's nothing to watch between Super Bowl Sunday and pitchers and catchers.

The game's final score was 2-1, which showed that it's not necessary to hike up scoring to deliver an exciting product. All that's necessary is to increase the number of scoring chances, and there were plenty in this game. The game also had its share of great goaltending, as well as a fight thrown in for good measure.

Sean Burke, making his first start in net since being reacquired by the Flyboys, stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced, including 12 in the third period when the Rangers ramped up the pressure. Admittedly, one of those saves probably crossed the goal line, but I'm sure he's not complaining.

The real thriller came midway through the third period, though, when the Flyers' two All-Stars, Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau, were injured and left the game 42 seconds apart. Primeau went off after an accidental knee-to-knee hit by Bobby Holik, but Roenick's injury was just flat-out gruesome. He took a slap shot to the face, and just went to the ice motionless, bleeding severely. The initial diagnosis: a shattered jaw.

But, as the announcers said, he'll probably be ready to play on Saturday with a cage.

The Flyers showed some real character after the injuries to their leaders. With the game tied 1-1 at the time, they could have rolled over and let the Rangers take the momentum. Instead, what they got was a terrific play by another new Flyer, Branko Radivojevic (more on him in a bit), who broke the puck into the attack zone, took it behind the net, and found Sami Kapanen with a pass. Kapanen then beat a defender before whistling a shot off the post and into the net for the game-winner.

The game wasn't over until literally the last second, though. The Rangers pulled their goalie and had several opportunities in the last minute of action. As the last few seconds ticked off the clock, the puck was in the crease, the Blueshirts were swatting at it, and Burke stoned them yet again. Holik was so frustrated he smashed his stick on the boards after the horn sounded.

The great part about this is that these two teams will go at it again tomorrow in the second half of their home-and-home series. With the game on ABC, you can bet the two teams will be keeping up the intensity, and the NHL is probably praying that it turns into a game that matches last night's as far as excitement.

As for Burke and Radivojevic, they made Bobby Clarke's latest deal look pretty good. They are two-thirds of the package that Phoenix sent over in exchange for Mike Comrie, and I was very impressed by both of them. Burke made some difficult saves in traffic, and Radivojevic's stickhandling and vision set up the game-winning goal.

Radivojevic, by the way, swiftly moved up my list of great names. It's pronounced "rad-eh-VOY-o-vich," and his first name is Branko, pronounced like O.J.'s low-speed getaway vehicle. The name flows, and hopefully so does his game.

So, in honor of my man Branko, here's my all-hockey name team:

Antero Niitymaki, Flyers; Maxime Ouellet, Capitals

Radek Bonk, Senators; Espen Knutsen, Blue Jackets; David Legwand, Predators; John Madden, Devils

Left Wings
Bates Battaglia, Capitals; Alexander Frolov, Kings; Dan LaCouture, Rangers; Alexander Semin, Capitals

Right Wings
Jonathan Cheechoo, Sharks; Branko Radivojevic, Flyers; Miroslav Satan, Sabres; Jordin Tootoo, Predators

Garnet Exelby, Thrashers; Barret Jackman, Blues; Marek Malik, Canucks; Stanislav Neckar, Predators; Radoslav Suchy, Coyotes; Alexei Zhitnik, Sabres


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