Series (Game 1 of 4)

Series tied 2-2

Game 1: Saturday, November 30th
Game 2: Monday, January 13th
Game 3: Thursday, January 23rd
Game 4: Saturday, February 8th

Bruins 3

(16-3-1, 36 pts)

Penguins 2

(11-6-3, 28 pts)

7:30 PM ET, November 30, 2002

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
BOS 1 1 13
PIT 0 1 12

J. Thornton (Bruins - C): Goals: 2, Assists: 0

A. Kovalev (Penguins - RW): Goals: 0, Assists: 2

S. Samsonov (Bruins - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 1

Samsonov's return sparks Bruins' victory

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- It didn't take Sergei Samsonov long to start making plays again for the Boston Bruins.

Sergei Samsonov

The Bruins forward, who missed the previous 18 games with a sprained right wrist, returned to the lineup Saturday night and set up one of linemate Joe Thornton's two goals and added a third-period goal as the Bruins beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2.

"Not bad, huh? It's nice to have him back,'' said Thornton, who scored his 12th and 13th goals of the season and assisted on Samsonov's eventual game-winner at 2:02 of the third period. "It's so nice to have that speed on the left side. For his first game back, he looked pretty good out there.''

The game matched the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Atlantic Division-leading Penguins, while the Northeast Division-leading Bruins are 9-1-1 in their last 11 games.

"Hey, we've got some good players,'' said Thornton, who has three goals and 11 points during a five-game scoring streak. "I don't think a lot of people realize that. This is not surprising to any of the guys in here, and it's been a lot of fun.''

Samsonov helped Thornton break a 1-1 tie at 13:38 of the second period when he cut from the left wing into the high slot and threw a perfect pass back to Thornton at the bottom of the left circle for Thornton's second goal of the game.

"He's a star in this league, no question, and he's only going to get better,'' Samsonov said of Thornton, who has 34 points in 23 games. "I think he's the best all-around player in the league right now. He's big, he's strong, he can skate, he has soft hands ... he's got everything you could ask for.''

Samsonov made it 3-1 when the teams were skating four-on-four. Bryan Berard's pass from the right wing corner caromed off Samsonov's right skate as he cut into the slot, and the puck slid past Pittsburgh goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin. The play was reviewed by the video goal judge, but it was ruled Samsonov didn't kick the puck into the net.

"Those guys have a great knack for the net,'' Pittsburgh center Wayne Primeau said of Thornton, Samsonov and linemate Glen Murray. "Samsonov is a pretty amazing player. He's so shifty. He's one of the better players in the league, and guys like that can come back strong from any amount of time out.''

Defenseman Andrew Ference and Jan Hrdina scored power-play goals for the Penguins. Hrdina's 11th goal of the season at 4:52 of the third period brought the Penguins within 3-2, as he deflected Alexei Kovalev's shot past goalie John Grahame. But Grahame, who stopped 24 shots, held off the Penguins the rest of the way to push his career record against them to 5-0-1.

"We played hard, but they have a good hockey team,'' Pittsburgh coach Rick Kehoe said. "They are one of the elite teams in the league now.''

Thornton gave Boston a 1-0 lead when he converted the rebound of P.J. Axelsson's shot at 14:59 of the first period. Ference, playing his second game since returning from hernia surgery, tied it at 5:37 of the second when he beat Grahame from the top of the right circle.

Ference manned the point on the power play in place of Dick Tarnstrom, who was in a cast and on crutches following Saturday's game after being hit with a shot late in the Penguins' 4-1 victory at Buffalo on Friday. If he has a broken bone, as suspected, Tarnstrom is likely to miss several weeks.

Game notes

Martin Straka (hamstring) also missed the game for the Penguins, while the Bruins scratched Martin Lapointe and Marty McInnis. ... Boston is unbeaten in its last six games in Pittsburgh (4-0-2). ... The game featured four of the league's top six scorers in Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux and Kovalev, and Boston's Thornton and Murray. Murray and Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer, each had one assist while Kovalev had two assists.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press