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Original Issue

Inside The NHL

No Pain, Big Gain
A healthy Markus Naslund is back in the groove and fueling the
resurgent Canucks

By going 10-2-1-1 in January, the Canucks made that month the
most successful in franchise history, but two of those losses, on
Jan. 8 in Buffalo and the next night in Detroit, might have been
the most significant games of the season for Vancouver. That's
because it wasn't until then that left wing Markus Naslund, the
Canucks' best player, showed he had fully recovered from the
fractured right tibia and fibula that ended his season last
March. "He's human; it had to have crossed his mind," says coach
Marc Crawford of Naslund's return to Buffalo, where he sustained
those injuries. "He played that game and got past the ghosts, and
then in Detroit he was outstanding. He beat Chris Chelios
one-on-one, and he beat Nicklas Lidstrom. He was dominant that
game. Since then we've observed a real upswing in his play."

With Naslund leading the way, Vancouver has awakened from an
early-season slump to jump into the middle of the playoff chase.
From Dec. 27 through Sunday the Canucks had gone 14-4-1-1 and
moved from last place in the Western Conference to seventh
(28-25-5-1 overall). Naslund's 11 goals and 16 assists over that
stretch had raised his season totals to 27 and 34, tying him with
the Flames' Jarome Iginla for most points in the league.

"You always have that in the back of your mind," Naslund says of
the injury and his early-season play. "When you're falling, you
hope you don't fall [the same] way again. I hadn't been skating
as aggressively, and by waiting a half a second, I lost a lot of
chances to score. I hesitated instead of jumping on the puck."

After surgeons inserted a titanium rod and screws into his right
leg last spring, Naslund rehabbed all summer in the private gym
of his summer cottage in his hometown of Ornskoldsvik, Sweden. He
biked and worked with weights to regain lower-leg strength. He
also skated regularly with teammates Daniel and Henrik Sedin, the
Sharks' Nicklas Sundstrom and the Blue Jackets' Mattias Timander.

Naslund's prolific scoring of late followed a change in his
center: On Jan. 9 Crawford replaced Andrew Cassels with Brendan
Morrison, whose superior speed and ability to pass make him an
ideal complement to Naslund and hard-hitting right winger Todd

Naslund, 28, signed a three-year, $15 million contract extension
in June and is maturing into the elite scorer he was expected to
be when the Penguins drafted him in the first round in 1991. In
fact he's in uncharted territory for the Canucks, who have never
had a player finish higher than third in the points race (Pavel
Bure in '97-98). "It's flattering when you look at the players
below you," Naslund says of the leader list, "but the thing I'm
most proud of is coming back from the injury the way I have."

Goalie Jose Theodore
Keeping Montreal In the Race

Jose Theodore's first experience as a goaltender was born of
necessity. Jose's brother Rock, 2 1/2 years his elder, was a
budding forward, so during street shootarounds outside their
house in the Montreal suburb of St. Bruno, Rock practiced his
marksmanship by sticking his younger brother, then four, in net.
"When there's only two players, you need a shooter and a goalie,
and I was younger, so I was the goalie," says Theodore, now 25,
whose given name is pronounced JOE-zay. "Rock said I was pretty
good, so I figured I ought to give it a try."

In his second season as Montreal's No. 1 goalie Theodore has
single-handedly kept the injury-depleted Canadiens (24-22-8-3
through Sunday, ninth in the Eastern Conference) in playoff
contention despite their having the second lowest goals-per-game
average of any team in playoff position. Though strong all season
(20-16-6, 2.11 goals-against average and a stellar .929 save
percentage), Theodore has been at his finest when pressed into
heavy duty: a 1.84 goals-against average and a .936 save
percentage over 16 straight starts from Nov. 6 through Dec. 10
and 1.72 and .944 while starting 13 of the Canadiens' last 14
matches through week's end. "The mental part is the toughest, but
it's fun to play a lot," says Theodore, Montreal's second-round
draft choice in 1994. "It's a chance to prove yourself to the
rest of the league, and as a young goalie that's what you're
looking for."

In prepractice workouts and postgame video sessions with goalie
coach Rollie Melanson, the 5'11", 182-pound Theodore has been
told to stand taller in the crease and use his blocker and glove
hand to better defend the upper part of the net. His biggest
improvement, however, has been controlling rebounds, a necessity
considering Montreal's suspect defense. Theodore is handling the
burden impressively. "There's always pressure on a goalie," he
says, "but if we stick to our system and play well in our own
zone, we'll drive to the playoffs."

Olympic Drug Testing
Home Remedies For Colds

Salt Lake City-bound NHL players are subject to the IOC's
byzantine doping regulations, which means that innocuous
substances such as coffee and Sudafed, the antihistamine, can
cause a flunked drug test. So what home remedies have the
league's Olympians been using lately while they try to combat
runny noses? "I ate garlic and I took vitamin C," says Leafs
defenseman Jyrki Lumme, who's playing for Finland. "It kept the
colds away, and it kept people away."

Team Canada goalie Curtis Joseph, another Leaf, heeded the advice
of former teammate Glenn Healy and slathered on Vicks VapoRub. "I
rubbed it on my chest, and to tell the truth," says Joseph,
"after a few minutes your nose clears up and it's over." Flyers
center Jeremy Roenick, who plays for the U.S., had another idea:
"I just stuck my head in the sauna."

COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA With 27 goals and 61 points, Naslund was tied for the league's scoring lead with Iginla.



Whom Would Tony Soprano Rather Have?

Bryan Marchment
In 14 seasons through Sunday he had 153 points while racking up
1,948 penalty minutes. He had been suspended 11 times (four for
kneeing incidents), missing a total of 34 games.

Darius Kasparaitis
In 10 seasons through Sunday he had scored 126 points while
racking up 1,086 penalty minutes. He had been suspended twice,
missing a total of three games.

THE VERDICT: Both keep opponents on edge, and Kasparaitis is
better on D, but nobody breaks rules--and legs--like

--Mark Beech