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Kovalev turns hat trick for Pittsburgh

1/26/2003

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- For nearly a month, Alexei Kovalev seemed to
have forgotten how to score. At the same time, the Pittsburgh
Penguins seemed to have simply forgotten about Randy Robitaille.

On Saturday, the Chicago Blackhawks were reminded how dangerous
the Penguins' offense can be, even during their worst scoring slump
of the season.

Kovalev scored three goals and the rarely used Robitaille added
a goal and three assists as the Penguins, limited to only one goal
in their previous three games, beat the Blackhawks 5-3.

Robitaille moved from the Penguins' scratched list onto their
first line after playing only infrequently since late November and
responded by matching his career high with four points. His goal
was his first since Oct. 21, during the Penguins' fourth game of
the season.

Kovalev, an Eastern Conference All-Star, had scored only once in
15 games before Robitaille assisted on all three of his goals.

The Penguins may be looking to trade Kovalev, who figures to
come close to doubling his $4.5 million salary in arbitration next
summer. Games like this make it tough for general manager Craig
Patrick to part with him.

"I can't worry about that, that's for everybody else to worry
about," Kovalev said. "I was glad to finally help the team. I
scored enough to help us win the game."

Robitaille's biggest worry lately wasn't scoring, but merely
getting onto the ice. He was scratched for 13 of the previous 17
games and, except for two assists against the Islanders on Jan. 7,
had gone scoreless since his assist Nov. 29 against Buffalo.

He got a chance to play again when coach Rick Kehoe, desperate
for scoring after the Mario Lemieux-less Penguins were held to 11
goals in eight games, bumped him up to the first line with Kovalev
and Jan Hrdina during practice Friday.

"It was an important game for me," said Robitaille, who had 10
goals and 20 assists in 40 games with Pittsburgh last season. "I
needed to get back out there and get some confidence. I felt good
with the puck."

Kovalev made it 5-3 with his 24th goal with 4:39 remaining, then
missed getting his fourth goal when he shot wide against an empty
net with 30 seconds remaining. It was Kovalev's 10th career hat
trick, and first this season.

Steve McKenna, an infrequent scorer during his career, got the
go-ahead goal that made it 4-3 at 4:39 of the third. He skated to
the low slot and steered Wayne Primeau's pass from behind the net
past backup goalie Michael Leighton.

Leighton came on when starter Jocelyn Thibault was lifted after
allowing a couple of soft goals, including Robitaille's goal early
in the second that put the Penguins up 3-2.

Robitaille took Hrdina's pass and, skating one-on-one against
Phil Housley, threw a shot on net that slid between Thibault's pads
for only his third goal.

"It seems like any mistake I make right now, it's in the net,"
Thibault said. "It's just something you've got to fight through.
There's no other way."

Kehoe also changed goalies, sitting rookie Sebastien Caron to
start Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who hadn't played since being pulled
following a three-goal first period Jan. 11 in a 3-1 loss to the
Rangers.

Aubin gave up Steve Sullivan's tying goal early in the third
after the Penguins rallied from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1, but turned
aside 23 of 26 shots for only his sixth victory. He is 6-13.

Housley and Andrei Nikolishin also scored for the Blackhawks,
who are 0-4-1 in their last five.

"We did some good things out there," Theo Fleury said. "But
they've got some decently skilled players over there. Teams go
through these streaks, and you've got keep working and stay
positive."

Game notes
Blackhawks F Sergei Berezin was lifted 4:22 into the
second, apparently with a shoulder injury. ... The Penguins are
5-7-0-1 in their last 13 home games. ... Blackhawks rookie Tyler
Arnason is the son of Chuck Arnason, a former Penguins teammate of
Kehoe's. ... Fleury's assist on Sullivan's goal was only his second
point in six games. ... It was Kovalev's first multiple-goal game
since he scored twice Dec. 23. ... All six of McKenna's goals have
come since Dec. 21. ... The Blackhawks are 1-6-3 in Pittsburgh
since 1991, the year before they lost the Stanley Cup finals to the
Penguins. ... Lemieux (groin) sat out for the eighth time in nine
games. The Penguins still don't know when he'll return.

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