Series (Game 1 of 2)

Pittsburgh leads 1-0

Game 1: Saturday, January 25th
Game 2: Sunday, March 23rd

Blackhawks 3

(21-17-3, 54 pts)

Penguins 5

(21-20-5, 51 pts)

3:00 PM ET, January 25, 2003

Mellon Arena, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

1 2 3 T
CHI 2 0 13
PIT 1 2 25

A. Kovalev (Penguins - RW): Goals: 3, Assists: 0

R. Robitaille (Penguins - C): Goals: 1, Assists: 3

S. McKenna (Penguins - LW): Goals: 1, Assists: 0

Kovalev turns hat trick for Pittsburgh

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.

 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.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press