BLAST THE PAST
The Blues' Pierre Turgeon has exploded his image as a playoff
Call it the $4.6 million question: What has motivated Blues
center Pierre Turgeon to perform so splendidly this spring? Has
he been driven by a desire to shake the ghosts of playoffs past?
Has he been moved by visions of big future paydays? Or has he,
as he says, "only been thinking about helping the team"?
Whatever the answer, know this: Turgeon, who at week's end led
St. Louis in the postseason with 12 points, will become a free
agent this summer. The Blues must decide by July 1 whether to
tender him a qualifying offer of $4.6 million (his salary this
season) to retain matching rights for his services.
Had Turgeon played at his typical disappointing playoff level
this year, St. Louis, which trailed the Stars 3-2 in the Western
Conference semifinals after losing 3-1 last Saturday night,
would have been regarded as being reasonable by its fans for
balking at the sum. Now the Blues would be mad not to pay it.
Turgeon, 29, has remade his postseason reputation over the past
few weeks and in so doing has led St. Louis to an unexpectedly
strong playoff showing. His overtime goal in Game 7 of the
opening series against the Coyotes gave the Blues a 1-0 win, and
in Game 4 against Dallas he roofed a wrist shot past Ed Belfour
in sudden death for a 3-2 St. Louis victory. "I don't know if
he's thinking about the contract," says Blues general manager
Larry Pleau. "I just think he got tired of hearing people say he
couldn't produce in the playoffs."
Those people had a point. The swift, sharpshooting Turgeon has
burned the opposition for 397 regular-season goals in his
12-year career, including 31 this season, yet until this month
his playoff rep was that of a victim. While performing for the
Islanders in a 1993 first-round series against the Capitals,
Turgeon was celebrating a goal, his arms aloft, when he got
blindsided by Capitals thug Dale Hunter and suffered a separated
right shoulder and a concussion.
By the 1996 playoffs Turgeon had been traded to the Canadiens,
and his soft play and meager production that spring--he had two
goals in six postseason games--drew relentless boos in Montreal.
After being shipped to St. Louis the following season, Turgeon
was again ineffective in the playoffs and wounded his image even
further by sitting out a first-round game against the Wings with
what a Blues doctor called "a garden-variety headache."
Thus, after he was viciously slashed on the back of his left
knee by Stars right wing Pat Verbeek in Game 1 two weeks ago,
few observers expected to see Turgeon again this spring. He
suffered nerve damage and a severe contusion that doctors
speculated could take weeks to heal. However, he played the next
game, scoring a goal and adding two assists. "I have a lot of
confidence right now because coach [Joel] Quenneville is putting
me out there with the game on the line," Turgeon said last
Friday. "I know about my contract situation, but it's not on my
mind. I'm not sure what I'm thinking about, really."
PAY THAT TRIBUTE IN CASH
Two months ago we told you about former Islanders star Bryan
Trottier's attempt to get New York to pay him $3 million to
participate in a ceremony to retire his number in 1997 (INSIDE
THE NHL, March 22). Now SI has been told that Trottier tried to
exact payment from another team that wanted to honor him.
Trottier, an Avalanche assistant, was an important role player
on the Stanley Cup-winning Penguins of 1991 and '92, and
Pittsburgh had scheduled a tribute to him before a March 2,
1998, home game against the Maple Leafs. A source says the
Penguins canceled those festivities when Trottier demanded money
to attend them, and instead the team staged a celebration of the
seven Nagano Olympians on its roster. Trottier wasn't looking
for a large sum, but financially strapped Pittsburgh, which
hadn't paid former stars Mario Lemieux or Joey Mullen for their
nights, was peeved that he wanted the cash.
Tom Happle, Trottier's representative, denies that Trottier
asked for payment from the Pens and says Trottier simply stepped
aside to allow for the Olympic salute. If that's true, it seems
odd that the night in his honor was not rescheduled. A Penguins
spokeman said he had no knowledge of Trottier's request.
CZECH OUT THIS VICTORY
When the Czech Republic won the gold medal at the Nagano
Olympics in 1998, it was regarded as an anomaly by many fans of
the disappointing Canadian and U.S. teams, who attributed the
triumph not to the Czechs' overall strength but to the
dominating talents of goalie Dominik Hasek and winger Jaromir
Jagr. On Sunday, with both the Sabres' Hasek and the Penguins'
Jagr engaged in the NHL playoffs, the Czech Republic laid
further claim to international supremacy by winning the world
championships in Lillehammer. After the Czech Republic and
Finland split the two-game finals series, the Czech Republic
secured the gold in a 20-minute overtime session when forward
Jan Hlavac, who doesn't remind anyone of Jagr when it comes to
playing offense, tallied. And in their semifinal shoot-out
victory over Canada last Thursday, the Czech Republic netminder
was someone by the name of Milan Hnilicka.
"I kept calling my parents back home to find out how we were
doing," says Stars goalie Roman Turek, a native of Pisek. "I
feel happy for all of us." While Turek wasn't ready to dismiss
Canada as an international force, he did provide a Czech term
that fans of all nations should become familiar with: Zeme
Hokejova, he said with a grin, means Hockey Country.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Turgeon's postseason breakout included this overtime shot in Game 4 against Dallas that found the net.
This Date in Playoff History
MAY 24, 1988/OILERS VS. BRUINS
Before Edmonton could turn out the lights on the Bruins, a power
failure struck 59-year-old Boston Garden, causing the only
midgame postponement in playoff history. The Oilers had just
finished celebrating Craig Simpson's goal to tie Game 4 of the
finals 3-3 with 3:23 to play in the second period when a
4,000-volt switch overloaded, causing the building to go dark.
After a half-hour delay, the match was postponed by NHL
executives. Game 4 was replayed in its entirety in Edmonton two
nights later, and the Oilers completed a series sweep with a 6-3
win for their fourth Stanley Cup in five years.