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Super Mario returns from bloody lip to score winner

10/29/2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Once again, nobody does comebacks like Mario Lemieux.

Lemieux missed nearly 10 minutes to be treated for a bloody
face, then returned to score the decisive goal in the Pittsburgh
Penguins' 3-2 victory over the Washington Capitals on Monday night.

"Some players might not have come back," Penguins coach Rick
Kehoe said. "But that's just the player he is. He got some
stitches, and he came back."

Lemieux needed 25 stitches to close a cut on his upper lip,
which was still bleeding slightly after the game. Despite the
injury, he was the clear winner in his first regular-season meeting
with longtime teammate Jaromir Jagr, who won five scoring titles
with Pittsburgh before being traded last year.

Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer, set up Jan Hrdina's goal
before getting hurt late in the first period. He has five goals and
15 assists for 20 points in nine games and has scored or assisted
on 20 of the Penguins' 31 goals.

With the Penguins up 2-0, Lemieux was struck when Alexei
Kovalev's shot from the right circle deflected wildly off Sergei
Gonchar's stick across the ice. Lemieux was in the left circle.

Lemieux stayed down on the ice for about 90 seconds and appeared
to be momentarily stunned. A small pool of blood was wiped away as
he left the ice.

"Usually I see it coming, but I didn't," Lemieux said. "I
didn't think about (not coming back). It's important for us to get
as many points as we can early in the season, it will be important
for the stretch when we're trying to make the playoffs."

Several minutes after Lemieux returned midway through the second
period, he made it 3-1 with his first goal in six games, a line
drive one-timer of Dick Tarnstrom's pass to the left point.

It was the second power-play goal of the game and sixth
man-advantage goal in two games for the Penguins, who began the
game with the NHL's most productive power play.

"It was out of nowhere," Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said.
"We kind of overskated the puck, and the next thing we knew it's
in our net from the far boards. That's Mario for you. I thought his
own guy (Kovalev) knocked him out, and that would have been the
best break we got all night."

Jagr did not score in the matchup with the man he still idolizes
and calls "my teacher," and now has one goal in five games
against his former team. The Capitals are 0-3-2 in those five.

The game ended with Jagr frantically trying to whack the puck
past Johan Hedberg during a Washington power play that lasted the
final two minutes. The Capitals effectively had a two-man advantage
over the last 1:06 after pulling their goalie, but couldn't get any
of six good shots past Hedberg, who turned aside 40 of 42 shots.

"Hedberg made some unbelievable saves," Washington's Peter
Bondra said. "I thought we would get one point (for the tie) out
of this and we probably should have had a point."

Lemieux's goal proved critical when Pittsburgh couldn't clear
the puck from its own zone, leading to Jeff Halpern's goal with 7
seconds left in the period that made it 3-2.

Despite that breakdown, Pittsburgh held on during the final
frantic two minutes of the game to improve to 5-1-2 since losing
its opener 6-0 to Toronto. The Penguins won only 28 games last
season, their worst in 17 years.

"It's a big confidence builder to win games like this,"
Hedberg said. "With Jags coming back (and former Penguins center)
Robert Lang's first game back, there was a lot of emotion in the
building. The guys saved me a couple of times, and I helped them
out sometimes."

Pittsburgh opened the 2-0 lead in yet another bad first period
by Washington on goals by Shean Donovan and Hrdina. Washington has
been outscored 10-2 in the first period.

Donovan scored Pittsburgh's second shorthanded goal and the
first against Washington on a breakaway at 5:56 of the first,
beating Craig Billington between the pads.

Hrdina scored about 8 minutes later on a power play, grabbing
Aleksey Morozov's rebound and lifting it over a sprawling
Billington's stick.

Bondra scored his fourth goal early in the second. He faked out
Hedberg by double-pumping from the top of the left circle, then
wristed a hard shot under Hedberg's right arm.

Game notes
Pittsburgh is 12-2-1 in its last 15 home games against
Washington. ... Lemieux has 50 goals and 50 assists in 59 games
against Washington. ... The Capitals went 3-4-1 on an eight-game
road trip.