SAN FRANCISCO -- Only time will tell if Juniper Networks' (JNPR) - Get Report chairman and CEO, Scott Kriens, is worthy of the industry captains' hall of fame, but this much we know already: He's mighty cool under pressure.

Exactly two weeks after archrival

Cisco Systems

(CSCO) - Get Report

announced its new

Juniper killer router, Kriens was asked Wednesday at the

Robertson Stephens Technology 2001 Conference

here if he thought he'd see price pressure as Cisco starts flexing its muscle to win back the market share that Juniper had taken.

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Kriens said price was among the weapons his rival could use, and added with a gunslinger's bravado: "No sense taking the ammo to the afterlife."

Juniper makes networking gear lovingly known as routers, which sit inside the Net and act like mail sorters sending info to addressed destinations. Cisco had few challengers for its Internet routing business until Juniper came along 2 1/2 years ago with a box of its own. Juniper has 30% of the

core router market and expected to have gained more in the fourth quarter.

Cisco, which is under considerable pressure to

reduce its inventories and regain its sales-growth momentum during this economic slump and industrywide

spending slowdown, has edged away from any suggestion of an impending router price war. But top management has termed the loss of market share "unacceptable."

In fact,

Robertson Stephens'

analyst Paul Johnson introduced Kriens as the possible real reason Cisco warned of slowing growth. Johnson argued that Cisco may be falsely blaming the economy for its problems when it may be getting its whupping from Juniper in its core router business. (Johnson rates Cisco and Juniper buys. His firm was the underwriter for Juniper's IPO, but it hasn't done underwriting for Cisco.)

Kriens attempted to dismiss the threat of Cisco's new competing router by trying to convince investors here that Cisco was engaged in the sincerest form of flattery with its Juniper-type product.

"As long as our features show up a year later" on the market leader's box, "it shows we were building the right thing," Kriens said.

While the trash talking got the yuks, not everyone was convinced the game is anywhere near over.

"Cisco ain't dead," said one hedge fund manager who has no position in it. "Cisco can afford to go head-to-head with Juniper because Cisco has other lines of business. It's really Juniper that's the company who can lose."