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Thursday, March 6, 2008
 

DANICA BEACH, Fla. - What will Gary Roberts do?

"I'm closing in on 42," Roberts said of his May 23 birthday. "It would be a nice birthday gift to still be playing hockey at that time of year."

That kind of gift would require the Penguins, who visit the Florida Panthers tonight, to win a few rounds in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is a realistic goal, Roberts believes, and one he would like to help achieve.

His plan is simple and direct. Return from a high left ankle sprain - his broken left leg has healed - to play in at least five regular-season games and then do what Roberts often does in the playoffs: hit anything that moves on his way toward the crease, park there and score a handful of big goals.

"One thing we know about Gary Roberts ... he's about pride," Penguins coach Michel Therrien said. "When it comes to the playoffs, it's about pride. That's what makes it different for players.

"I know he has something in mind. He wants to come back as strong as he can be."

That certainly was the case last season, when Roberts won over Pittsburgh by scoring seven goals in 19 games after arriving from Florida at the 2007 NHL trade deadline. His berserker-like voracity to impose upon opponents endeared him to fans that longed for a punishing Penguin to rival former hard-hitting defensemen Darius Kasparaitis and Ulf Samuelsson.

Of course, the rub is that Roberts has been around the league long enough - he debuted during the 1986-87 season - to know those two guys as pups.

Age has proven part of any discussion about Roberts for most of this century. It is a reason, despite his 30 career playoff goals, including two in five games with the Penguins last April, there remains doubt if he can help the Penguins win the Cup this season.

Another reason is his limited activity this season; Roberts has appeared in only 37 games.

He has not played since Dec. 29, when he valiantly refused assistance off the ice after his left fibula was fractured in a game against Buffalo at Mellon Arena. Two games prior, Roberts scored two goals in a victory over Boston - a sign, he believed then, his game was rounding into form after early struggles with a viral infection and asthma.

He has resumed skating with teammates, though is not yet participating in full-contact portions of practice. There is a lineup slot waiting for Roberts when he is ready to play.

"He could be a really important player for us because he is always recognized as being a warrior in the playoffs," Therrien said.

And what would Roberts do if the playoffs ended with him taking a second sip from Lord Stanley's chalice?

"At age 23, I won the Stanley Cup in Calgary, and I thought, 'Boy, how many more of these am I going to win?'" Roberts said. "It is 19 years later and I haven't been back to the Cup final.

"You have a short window of opportunity to win the Stanley Cup, and we all know that window is the next couple of years. Hopefully, that is sooner for me."

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