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Lemieux has goal, three assists in Pens' victory

12/23/2002

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mario Lemieux has shown off his great skill in
many places during his Hall of Fame career, but the faceoff circle
hasn't been one of them.

Until Monday night.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' captain scored one goal directly off a
faceoff and set up another off a clean faceoff win, both in the
third period, as he rallied the Penguins to a 5-2 victory over the
Buffalo Sabres.

Lemieux had one goal and three assists in a span of 6 minutes, 2
seconds as he and linemates Alexei Kovalev and Martin Straka
combined for eight points in the game's final nine minutes to help
Pittsburgh overcome a 2-1 deficit.

"I've tried that so many times over the years, and one of these
days it was going to work,'' Lemieux said.

Lemieux won a faceoff from Chris Gratton in the right circle and
beat goaltender Mika Noronen all in the same motion for the game-winning goal at 13:10 of the final period.

"For some reason, I can only try that against a lefty,''
Lemieux said.

With right-handed Stu Barnes opposing him in the right circle
4:01 later, Lemieux cleanly won the draw around Barnes and then
slipped a pass into the slot for Straka, who scored his eighth
goal.

"I think it was a bit of Mario magic,'' Sabres coach Lindy Ruff
said.

It finished the improbable comeback and give the Penguins their
second consecutive victory following a 10-game winless streak.

Kovalev scored the first of his two goals at 11:09 of the period
to tie it at 2 off a perfect pass from Lemieux. He added his
team-leading 19th goal by converting Straka's pass at 16:02.

"It was our job, the top guys, to go out when the team's down
and lift the team,'' said Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer with 60
points in 33 games. "The last few weeks have been tough on the
team, but winning a game like this will certainly help.''

The Penguins, who broke their slide with a 2-0 home victory over
Calgary on Saturday, won for the first time this season when
trailing after two periods.

Rookie Ales Kotalik gave Buffalo a 2-1 lead late in the second
period with his first career power-play goal at 13:28. But the
Sabres, who have won only two road games this season, fell apart in
the final period while losing to the Penguins for the third time
this season.

"We talked about it between periods, that we couldn't go out
and sit on the 2-1 lead,'' Sabres defenseman James Patrick said.
"And I don't think we did that. But these guys are so explosive
they can score in bunches.

"There were some great plays by them and some mistakes by us.
That's all you can say. Off the faceoff ... it's something I've
only seen once or twice in my 19 years. It was a brilliant play by
a brilliant player.''

The loss was the third straight for the Sabres, who have won
just one of their last seven games.

J.P. Dumont gave the Sabres a 1-0 lead just 1:50 in when he
fired the rebound of Norman Milley's shot past goaltender Johan
Hedberg from the right circle for his seventh goal.

The Penguins tied it three minutes later on Milan Kraft's second
goal in three games. Kovalev stole the puck in the neutral zone,
and his pass from the right wing glanced off linemate Michal Sivek
and right to Kraft, who fired the puck past Noronen from the left
circle.

Game notes
Buffalo D Alexei Zhitnik, who played his fourth game since
returning from a broken foot, hasn't scored in 78 games since
beating Hedberg in November, 2001. ... The Penguins scratched
Brooks Orpik, Randy Robitaille and Alexandre Daigle. ... Buffalo
scratched Rob Ray, Rhett Warrener (groin) and Radoslav Hecl. ...
Sivek's assist was his first NHL point, while Kovalev recorded his
600th NHL point on the same play. ... Noronen made his first start
since Nov. 12.