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ON THE NHL

Lindros Is Both Valuable and Risky for the Rangers

January 08, 2002|Lonnie White

Hours before the New York Rangers' Eric Lindros suffered the seventh concussion of his career in a game against San Jose, Theo Fleury talked about his linemate.

"The concussion thing hasn't been an issue at all with Eric," Fleury said. "If you look at [Mighty Duck] Paul Kariya, who had to sit out for a long time, he's come back and is playing well and no one's talking about his [previous head injuries]."

But later that night, Lindros did suffer another head injury, in a first-period collision with San Jose's Mark Smith. The contact didn't appear to be too damaging at first, but it turned out to be just the type of innocent hit that points out the difference between Lindros and Kariya.

One player can't seem to avoid hits, the other works hard to avoid them.

"Eric is a physical player," Kariya said about his Canadian Olympic teammate. "It's not like he can hide out there or play a soft game."

True. At 6 feet 4 and 240 pounds, Lindros is a muscular power forward with great skill. He draws contact the way a magnet draws nails. That's why the Rangers are taking a major risk by counting on Lindros to lead them to the Stanley Cup.

Mike Richter has played like an Olympic goaltender. Brian Leetch has returned to all-star form and Fleury is flying around the ice like a youngster again. But Lindros has been the driving force behind the Rangers' surge to the front of the pack in the Atlantic Division.

If there were any doubt before Lindros had to sit out four games, there shouldn't be now, seeing as how the Rangers went 1-3 without him. When Lindros returned in the Rangers' 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, he played tentatively, as he had during the exhibition season.

Lindros told Ranger broadcaster John Davidson that he'd known immediately the extent of his latest injury, saying he knew it was minor but wanted to be on the safe side because of his history.

"It wasn't a major concussion," he said. "I felt very confident in the fact that things will return."

When Lindros takes the ice on Wednesday for the Rangers' game against the Kings at Madison Square Garden, expect him to be as aggressive as he was before he sat down, complaining of a headache, against the Sharks.

"I believe that I altered my game from the start [of the season]," Lindros said. "I don't think I'm as physical [as before]."

Kariya knows what it's like to return after having been sidelined because of a head injury. In 1997-98, he sat out the 1998 Nagano Olympics and the final 28 games of the NHL season because of post-concussion syndrome. He did not return to the Ducks until the start of the next season.

"It's been three years for me and I've gotten hit hard a lot of times," Kariya said. "I didn't feel great afterwards, but I've never had any symptoms of a concussion."

Because of his well-documented experiences with concussions, Kariya says Lindros is better prepared to deal with any problems he has now. Once you sit out for a while, you're more aware, according to Kariya.

"No one can tell anyone else what to do," he said. "You have to be yourself and consider your health. Eric has been through all of this before. He knows what his body can take.

"It's a tough situation because, obviously, Eric is a tremendous competitor and one of the best players in the game. As a fan of the game and a fan of him, you want to see him playing out there."

Better Second Time Around

Right wing Glen Murray, the former King who was shipped out in the trade that brought in Jason Allison, has emerged as a consistent scorer during his second tour of duty with the Boston Bruins.

Murray played his first full NHL season with Boston in 1992-93, but his playing time was shaky and he was traded to Pittsburgh in the summer of 1995.

"It's funny how things work out," Murray told the Boston Globe. "You start your career and then you go away and come back. It's different because I was so young. Before, I did play, but not in the situations I do now. I feel like a big part of the team. You just want to keep helping out."

Skating on a line centered by Joe Thornton, Murray has 12 goals and 25 points in 33 games with the Bruins, who have won seven of their last nine games and moved into the No. 2 spot overall in the Eastern Conference.

"I knew it was going to be different coming back here because I knew I was going to get a chance to play," he said. "Obviously, getting to play with Joe and [Sergei Samsonov] has helped out a ton.

"I'd never played with a left-handed-shooting centerman before. It's kind of different, but it's working out great."

Streaking Hurricane

Carolina's Sami Kapanen has been on a tear. Over a recent six-game scoring stretch, Kapanen had two goals and nine assists as the first-place Hurricanes gave themselves some breathing room in the Southeast Division.

Veteran captain Ron Francis has seen a tremendous jump in poise by Kapanen.

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