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Fairy tale return for Lemieux

It takes all of :33 for Penguins legend to get assist. In 1st game since April 1997: 1 goal, 2 assists.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 28, 2000


PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux once specialized in rewriting the record book. Now he's writing a storybook tale.

Lemieux made a remarkable comeback after 31/2 years of retirement, scoring a goal and assisting on two others -- one on his first pass on his first shift, no less -- as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0 Wednesday night.

Lemieux always delighted in doing the improbable during his Hall of Fame career from 1984-97, and this game was no different. Not even he expected to be this good this soon after being away this long.

Lemieux estimated it would take two to three weeks to get his game back. Instead, it was more like 33 seconds -- the time that had elapsed when he assisted on Jaromir Jagr's goal on his first shift in an NHL game since April 1997.

"I wanted to get off to a good start and take the pressure off right off the bat," Lemieux said between periods.

Lemieux's goal came at 10:33 of the second period. Jagr, previously slumping but clearly motivated by again playing alongside the player he once idolized, skated down the right wing, faked out defenseman Dimitri Yushkevich, then fed a cross-ice pass to a fast-charging Lemieux in the left circle.

Lemieux buried the shot past goaltender Curtis Joseph, and Lemieux's delighted family, led by wife Nathalie and 4-year-old son Austin, exchanged high-fives in a private box.

As he left the ice, Lemieux managed a little smile as he smacked gloves with his charged-up teammates along the bench.

Wednesday's performance was the kind that can help land a player in the Hall of Fame, except that Lemieux is already there, having been voted in a few months after retiring in 1997. Lemieux, the first owner-player in modern pro sports history, decided to come back in part to get Jagr out of his slump, and that worked immediately.

Jagr, who has won every NHL scoring title since Lemieux retired but was only 17th in the league going into the game, scored twice during a four-point night, including a short-handed breakaway goal with three seconds left in the second period that made it 5-0.

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