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Roberts: Physical play, fights can shift momentum

| Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Former Philadelphia Flyers tough guy Ben Eager discovered Dec. 11 what Gary Roberts would do when an opponent went too far against the Penguins.

Roberts, 41, went after Eager, then 23, early in the third period with the Penguins trailing 5-2 in a game they would lose 8-2. Roberts' subsequent pummeling of Eager failed to alter the outcome, but it added to Roberts' legend and sent a message to teammates and opponents alike -- the Penguins would not be intimidated physically.

The Penguins would incur two more fighting majors and five misconducts after the Roberts-Eager scrap in a game that, much like the Penguins' come-from-behind, 6-5 shootout victory Nov. 22 in Ottawa, can be perceived as having had a galvanizing effect on a Penguins team that was fighting to distance itself from a slow start.

Eager is no longer with the Flyers, having been traded Dec. 18 to Chicago, a week after his encounter with Roberts.

Roberts remains a prominent member of the Penguins, playing the role of fourth-line winger, inspirational leader and, when necessary, policeman.

He spoke with Tribune-Review columnist Mike Prisuta about what he's done, what he intends to do and what the Penguins should do in their upcoming Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia:

Q: Was your fight with Eager in December just something that happens in a game that's getting out of hand or was it a calculated response on your part?

A: We were down ... and he took a pretty good run at Georges Laraque on the boards and knocked him down, and they were giving Georges the penalty. (Eager) was coming over to the bench and just kind of smiling at me. At that point, I just decided it was time (to fight). It's not something that I've done a lot over the last few years, but I'm still willing to do it if I have to. Hopefully, I still have a few of those left in me.

Q: That wasn't long after the comeback game in Ottawa that's been perceived as a turning point for the Penguins this season. Was the Philadelphia game, as well•

A: I think our team is really much stronger this time around. I really believe that what it went through without Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby for a period of time and guys stepped in and did the job, I think it made us a stronger group. And maybe it made those guys realize that there are a lot of other guys that can do the job, too, and help out. You look at the way Sid and (Evgeni) Malkin have played, our top guys, they've been dominant. It's been fun to watch them play. Hopefully, that'll continue as we go along here.

Q: How do you decide what time is the right time for a response such as the one you offered Eager?

A: You kind of get a feel for it. Georges does it as well as anybody. He knows when it's time to try to change the momentum. And that's what this series is going to be about, momentum shifts and facing that adversity when it doesn't go your way. The biggest key for us is to be physical but really to be smart. As you've seen, power plays, you're going to win or lose the series over those. You want to be physical and you want to play on the edge, but there's a fine line to going over the edge.

Q: The Flyers haven't been dressing tough guys Riley Cote and Steve Downie lately. Do you expect them to be a factor or will it be a series dominated mostly by power plays, penalty-killing and goaltending•

A: I think you'll probably see a little of those guys, but I do believe that the specialty teams will decide the series.

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