Lemieux scores hat trick: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1
The Penguins gave the Montreal Canadiens a taste of their own medicine Wednesday night – then spiked it with three shots of vintage Mario Lemieux.
Lemieux notched his 40th career hat trick in a 3-1 victory before a sellout crowd of 16,980 at Mellon Arena.
It was Lemieux’s first hat trick since he came out retirement Dec. 27 and his first since Jan. 26, 1997, when he had four goals at Montreal.
‘I’m surprised it took him four years,’ Penguins captain Jaromir Jagr said jokingly. ‘He’s supposed to be the best player in the world, and it took him four years to get a hat trick.’
It is surprising that Lemieux didn’t score some goals from the owner’s box during his three-and-a-half year retirement. The angle up there is better than where he scored from last night.
On two of his goals, he fit the puck into a hole the size of a Ferraro twin.
Lemieux moved into second place all-time in hat tricks, ahead of former New York Islanders star Mike Bossy. Wayne Gretzky has the most, with 50.
Lemieux has 14 goals and 12 assists in 13 games this season.
‘I still feel I have a long way to go to get my legs back,’ Lemieux said. ‘I still have to be very patient with myself. Sometimes, I push myself too much, too quickly. I have to remind myself that I’ve been out of the game for a while.
‘But if my hands are there when I have an opportunity, usually I can make a good shot.’
Lemieux’s first goal – at 16:36 of the first period – was the biggest, because it prevented the Canadiens from playing with a lead. They aren’t good at much, but they’re experts at that.
The Canadiens, who were missing no fewer than 11 players with injuries, came into the game 9-0-3-2 when they score first. They are the only team in the NHL who has not been beaten when it scores first.
The Penguins are the only team with Lemieux. He showed superhuman strength to start the play, fending off Canadiens defenseman Karl Dykhuis (6-foot-3, 214 pounds) with one hand before pushing the puck to linemate Kevin Stevens. Stevens returned the favor, setting up Lemieux in the slot.
That goal gave the fans a thrill – and perhaps a free sub. It was scored during a Subway promotion segment, whereby fans can redeem their ticket stub for a free, six-inch meatball sub.
In two earlier meetings this season, the Canadiens made the Penguins look like meatballs, frustrating them with a patient, trapping style that netted Montreal three points.
This time, the Penguins didn’t try to force passes through the middle. They simply waited and made smart plays. In fact, both teams did a lot of waiting, which is why this game sometimes seemed like nothing more than two-and-a-half hours in a waiting room.
But the Penguins showed they are willing to change their style if need be.
‘For us to do anything this year, we have to start thinking defense first,’ Lemieux said. ‘I know it’s going to be tough to do with the players we have in here, but everybody has to do it. Our line has to do it. The second line has to do it. We know we can score a lot of goals, so if we can play good defense, we could be dangerous.’
Absolutely nothing happened in the second period until Jagr outhustled two Canadiens (Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray) for a loose puck and pushed it to Lemieux alone in front.
Lemieux waited, waited, waited (it was a theme, remember) before goalie Jose Theodore dropped to his knees. That’s when Lemieux lifted the puck over him from a harsh angle.
‘I was running out of room, but I found a little spot,’ Lemieux said.
Jagr had two assists, extending his point streak to eight games.
Dykhuis helped the Penguins’ cause late in the second period by taking a four-minute high sticking penalty against Martin Straka, who took a handful of stitches on his chin.
Lemieux again scored from an impossible angle – bottom of the left circle – with a one-timer off a pass from Alexei Kovalev.
Lemieux had absolutely no room, or so it seemed.
‘That’s what I thought, also,’ Theodore said. ‘I’m not the first goalie to get scored on by him from an angle like that.’
Penguins goaltender Garth Snow came within 2 minutes, 12 seconds of recording his second consecutive shutout. That’s when Eric Chouinard ruined the bid on Montreal’s 18th shot.
The Penguins put themselves in a bad position 10:37 into the game when they gave the Candiens a 5-on-3 advantage. But it was for a good cause. They were sticking up for Lemieux.
Lemieux exchanged some shoves with Souray, then hammered Arron Asham in the neutral zone. Penguins winger Steve McKenna then challenged Souray, but nothing came of it, so defenseman Bob Boughner jumped in and fought Souray.
Lemieux will get another enforcer on his side starting today, when Krzyzstof Oliwa joins practice.
Oliwa, acquired Jan. 14 from the Columbus Blue Jackets, has been out since Oct. 28, when he suffered a broken right arm against the Detroit Red Wings. Oliwa figures he’ll be ready to play shortly after the Feb. 4 All-Star Game.
‘This is very exciting,’ Oliwa said. ‘I’m grateful for the opportunity to play for such a good team.’
Oliwa took the red-eye from Los Angeles to Columbus Wednesday morning, then drove to Pittsburgh to catch the game.
He arrived just in time to see one of Lemieux’s vintage performances.