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Avs Coach Wants To Protect Forwards

May 11, 2000

DENVER (AP) _ A year’s time has done little to erase the memory of Colorado Avalanche forwards Milan Hejduk and Peter Forsberg crumpled on the ice courtesy of Dallas Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk.

While clean, the check on Hejduk broke the Czech’s collarbone and ended his impressive rookie season. The hit on Forsberg resulted in a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, and remains a point of contention for Avalanche coach Bob Hartley.

``That was definitely an attempt to injure,″ Hartley said Wednesday as Colorado prepared to open the Western Conference finals Saturday at Dallas.

Both hits came during Game 4 of last year’s conference finals. The Avalanche won in overtime, but Dallas took the best-of-seven series 4-3. Hartley expects the NHL’s two-referee system to deter Matvichuk from taking any cheap shots when the rivalry resumes.

``For once, I truly believe that Matvichuk won’t be able to get away with what he got away with last year,″ he said.

The comments were unprovoked by the media, and when asked if he was lobbying, Hartley took another shot at Matvichuk.

``I’m not lobbying. I just feel sorry that he didn’t get the Conn Smythe (Trophy)″ given to the Stanley Cup MVP, he said. ``I felt that with all the destruction that he did, I think he should have maybe got that trophy.″

Whether he was posturing, lobbying or simply venting, Hartley can take comfort in knowing that Hejduk, Forsberg and fellow forward Joe Sakic are healthy and playing well.

Hejduk, who led the Avalanche with 36 goals, and Sakic each have two goals and four assists, while Forsberg has five goals and five assists.

``We realize the people we have to zero in on,″ Dallas forward Joe Nieuwendyk said. ``It’s no secret that Forsberg is a key player and Sakic is a key player. Matvichuk and (Derian) Hatcher are going to see a lot of those guys.″

Nieuwendyk agreed with Hartley that two referees should reduce the number of vengeful hits that are common in the playoffs. ``I think it takes away cheap penalties behind the plays.″

While Hatcher and Matvichuk cover the blue line for Dallas, the Avalanche are optimistic that Ray Bourque will be reunited with Adam Foote on Colorado’s first line of defense.

Bourque, seeking his first Stanley Cup in 21 seasons, missed the last two games of the conference semifinals after injuring his left knee. He has been able to skate in the past week but has not taken part in contact drills with the team.

``The medical staff will let us know later on during the week if he’s going to be available, but he feels great,″ Hartley said. ``He’s skating very well. There’s no pain.″

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