Mario Lemieux still the show

Updated: December 31, 2010, 8:49 PM ET
Associated Press

PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux couldn't find the net. That doesn't mean he's lost his scoring touch.

Lemieux set up two goals to offset two goals by Washington's Paul Mulvey as retired players from the Capitals and Penguins skated to a 5-5 result Friday in the Winter Classic alumni game.

[+] EnlargeMario Lemieux
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMario Lemieux and the rest of the alumni didn't wear helmets, but that doesn't mean they didn't take the game less seriously.

The two-period game played before 10,000 fans was relaxed -- most players wore ski caps rather than helmets -- but competitive. Peter Bondra, a career 500-goal scorer, scored the tying goal for Washington with 45 seconds remaining.

The highlight might have been Hall of Famers Lemieux and Larry Murphy assisting on Pittsburgh's final goal, scored by Hall of Famer Ron Francis on the power play. Hall of Famer Paul Coffey and former All-Star Kevin Stevens also were on the ice.

"That power play, well, it looked like we knew what we were doing out there a little bit," Murphy said.

Most players raved about the ice at the temporary rink, installed a week ago between the 20-yard lines at Heinz Field. That ice could be tested by Saturday's predicted rain showers and moderate temperatures, the first time the 4-year-old Winter Classic has been played in anything other than winter-like weather.

"The ice was great. Just a few times in the neutral zone, there was a puddle," Lemieux said. "But they came right out and cleaned it up."

Rob Brown, Rod Buskas, Craig Simpson and Jay Caufield also scored for Pittsburgh. Caufield, known more for his fighting skills, surprised his own teammates by winding up a slap shot from just inside the blue line.

"I've got a Hall of Famer, Ron Francis, on one side, and a Hall of Famer, Bryan Trottier, on the other, then playing with Mario," Brown said. "A pretty cool experience."

Mark Lofthouse, wearing the No. 8 now worn by Alex Ovechkin, and Alan May added goals for the Capitals, who had fewer Hall of Famers but younger goaltending. The Penguins' starting goalie was 60-year-old Gilles Meloche, their goaltending coach.

The fans, many wearing the special dark blue Penguins' Winter Classic jersey, chanted and yelled for Lemieux to score, but he couldn't put a slap shot and a couple of wrist shots past 49-year-old goalie Don Beaupre.

"It was great to play with some of my old linemates," said Lemieux, who retired for the second and final time in 2006 -- seven years after buying the Penguins. "Kevin Stevens, he's a little slower now, but he still knows where to go."

Stevens, who looks to be considerably above his one-time playing weight of 230 pounds, took a couple of shifts and, he said, "I felt like I was out there a month."

Bill Guerin, who retired last month at age 40, was among the youngest players.

"It's always going to be competitive. We've all been playing this game a long time, and no one wants to lose. We're out here; we might as well play hard," he said.

Lemieux was the last of the 50 players announced. To welcome him to the ice, the Penguins used a recorded announcement by the late John Barbero, their longtime arena announcer who died last summer.

"Win or lose, this game was a little different from the rest of them. This was about Mario Lemieux," Mulvey said. "It was great to get out there and play and see the guys. It was a good day for us all. But this was about Mario. It was his day."

Ticket demand was high, and the Penguins estimated they could have sold out Heinz Field if the NHL had chosen to open the entire stadium for the alumni game and a Pittsburgh team practice.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE