Fourteen seconds into the game Tuesday night, and the Kings were already down, 1-0. Reality, after a season-best three-game winning streak, seemed to be closing in.
Lemieux could not stop the Kings from moving out of the cellar in the Smythe Division, but he did a pretty good job of denying Los Angeles its fourth straight win. His third hat trick on his 33rd, 34th and 35th goals of the season highlighted a 4-4 tie before a crowd of 16,168 at the Civic Arena.
The Kings never led, but never trailed by more than a goal after the first period.
"Mario put on a show for their team," said Jimmy Carson, whose goal for the Kings with 11:03 left in the second period tied the game for good. "He does that quite often. We tried to contain him, but we at least contained the others and got a big point."
A very big point. The tie moved the Kings out of a tie with Vancouver and into fourth place in the Smythe, the one point being the difference over the idle Canucks. It also kept the Kings (13-24-5) unbeaten in their last four games and five of the last six.
"It was a good game in the regard that we came back," King Coach Robbie Ftorek said. "I'm happy with the tie. I wouldn't have been happy with the tie coming in."
That, of course, was before the Penguins took a 2-0 lead just 2:11 into the game. Chris Dahlquist started it when his wrist shot got past goalie Glenn Healy at 19:46 of the first period, and then the Lemieux LeShow took over.
Way ahead of the pace for a fourth straight 100-point season in the National Hockey League, he put the Penguins ahead, 2-0, by blasting a shot past Healy from eight feet inside the blue line on a power play.
The Kings cut the deficit in half when Bernie Nicholls beat veteran goalie Gilles Meloche 3:19 into the game and then tied it on Mike Allison's score with a two-player advantage at 7:34. But Lemieux answered with 43 seconds left in the period to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
The Kings scored again 2:58 into the second period, Paul Guay getting his first goal of the season, but it was hat's off to Lemieux soon enough. His third goal, and the ceremonial tossing of headgear on the ice, came with 14:45 left in the second and put the Penguins back on top, 4-3.
It could have been worse. Lemieux barely missed two other goals, hitting the goal post once and sweeping the puck across the crease just in front of the goal line on a wrap-around attempt on the other.
Maybe it's only a coincidence, but Lemieux has picked up his scoring pace while Wayne Gretzky of Edmonton has been out with strained knee ligaments. Lemieux has four goals and two assists in the last three games, moving him within eight points of Gretzky for the league lead in scoring at 86 points. The Oiler star is expected to miss another two weeks.
The run is even more impressive because Lemieux has heated up while the Penguins' second-best scorer, defenseman Paul Coffey, has been sidelined with an injury. Having Coffey in the lineup would probably be worth a few more assists.
Carson gave the Kings the tie later in the second period. From there, the teams went quiet for the final 36:03, including the five-minute overtime.
"I never thought it would hold up," Carson said. "It was a very offensive game."
But it did, and the Kings got away with a tie. Gladly so.
King Notes Bob Janecyk, the odd man out in the Kings' three-goaltender rotation, was sent to the New Haven, Conn., farm team. After winning 22 games as a rookie in 1984-85, the eighth-best mark in franchise history, the 30-year-old Janecyk slowly went down hill. Last season, he played in only seven games. This year, he was 11-2 with a 1.65 goals-against average at New Haven before being called up Dec. 2. He lost his first four starts with the Kings before beating Winnipeg last Wednesday at the Forum. . . . With 15 goals and 38 points through 42 games, Bob Carpenter has already easily surpassed his 60-game totals from last season, when he had 9 goals and 27 points. In his recent hot streak, Carpenter had back-to-back games of one goal and one assist--Saturday against Montreal at the Forum and Monday at New Jersey in the opener of the five-game trip. Tuesday, he missed most of the game with an unspecified, but minor, injury. . . . Bob Bourne, on meeting President Reagan Monday in Washington as part of Sports Illustrated's salute to its Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year: "It was one of the best days of my life. The great thing was that my wife was able to come with me. I won four Stanley Cups, and that ranks right up there." . . . Pittsburgh's Paul Coffey, acquired in the seven-player trade with Edmonton Nov. 24, missed his sixth straight game because of a small tear in the cartilage in his right knee. Earlier, he had been sidelined for three games with a bruised knee. He will be examined again Thursday. . . . Former King star Charlie Simmer, picked up by the Penguins from Boston in the Oct. 5 waiver draft, did not suit up for the game, although he is not injured. The fifth-leading scorer in Kings' history, he had three goals in as many games when he came to Pittsburgh, but has had nothing since. Even a late-December change of uniform numbers, from 16 to 13, hasn't helped. . . . The Kings have two days off before playing Friday at Detroit. They swept their three-game series with the Red Wings last season.