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февраля 2001 года.
Kovalev masters trick of the trade // Post-Gazette
By Dejan Kovacevic, Post-Gazette Sports Writer
It's a debate that has been going on in barrooms and chat rooms since they were traded for each other Nov. 25, 1998.
And last night, it was played out on ice. In a matchup desired by the Penguins and New York Rangers, Nedved's unit, which includes Radek Dvorak and Jan Hlavac, repeatedly faced off against the line of Kovalev, Robert Lang and Martin Straka.
Kovalev by a knockout.
He netted his NHL-high fourth hat trick of the season, sparking the Penguins' 6-4 victory last night at Mellon Arena. Including the two assists he registered, he had five points and a plus-1 rating. Nedved produced one assist and a minus-2 rating.
"Kovalev's a great player with a great shot," Nedved said. "But if you give him that much room, he's going to score. I guess we gave them too much respect."
Asked if he was blaming his line for the loss, Nedved replied: "No, I don't think it was our line. I think it was our whole team. I think we gave them too much respect, backed off a little too much. Some of the goals that were scored wouldn't have happened if we would have closed the gap."
That's open to argument, considering Kovalev wasted little time on all of his goals, coolly depositing three of his first four shots behind rookie goaltender Vitali Yeremeyev.
On the first, he was wide open in the low slot when he accepted a sharp pass from Straka. He glided backward momentarily until Yeremeyev fell as if trying to make a snow angel, then buried a high shot at 14:43 of the first period.
On the second, with the man-advantage, he took a pass from Kevin Stevens, moved in from the right point until he could use Rangers right winger Jeff Ulmer as a screen. With Jaromir Jagr creating additional traffic in front, he whipped a long wrist shot by Yeremeyev at 18:44.
"Great shot," Rangers Coach Ron Low said. "We did everything we wanted to do on that play, and he beat us with the shot."
On the third, Darius Kasparaitis kept the puck in the New York zone with a devastating hit on Dvorak. Lang collected it behind the net and fed Kovalev for a quick flip shot past Yeremeyev's blocker at 12:28 of the second period. And the hats rained down.
The Kovalev the Rangers knew during his New York career might not have shot any of those pucks. And he almost assuredly would have felt compelled to deke a player or two before he did.
But this Kovalev is different, and the Rangers recognize that better than any team in the NHL.
"He's one of the top three or four players in the league now, and he worked hard to get there," left winger Adam Graves said. "He's always played with a lot of confidence, but what you're seeing now is his experience. This didn't happen by accident. He works extremely hard at his game, always has. People talk about his skill level, but what you saw tonight was the result of hard work."
"He's the hot one right now," right winger Theoren Fleury said. "He's the one you have to worry about. That whole second line of theirs is."
Low's decision to deploy Nedved's unit against Kovalev appeared to pay off early, when the Rangers' Czechs produced a goal on their first shift and spent much of the first 20 minutes buzzing the Penguins' net. But the final tally showed the gamble backfired.
"You've got two lines to shut down when you play these guys, obviously," Low said. "Kovalev is one of the hottest scorers in the league right now, and we chose Nedved's line against him. ... We were in a situation where we had to come up and stop him, and we didn't."
Oh, and if anyone's still counting ...
The breakdown of Kovalev vs. Nedved since they switched uniforms gives Kovalev an advantage of 85 goals to 67 and 187 points to 172. For this season alone, the numbers aren't nearly as tight, with Kovalev having 39 goals to Nedved's 23 and 75 points to 57.
And let the record show that the Penguins also received a seven-figure cash payment from New York to accept that trade.
No word on if the Rangers would make that deal again.
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