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NHL Roundup : Lemieux’s 5 Goals, 3 Assists Lift Penguins to Victory Over Devils

Until Wayne Gretzky came along, 100 points in a season was a goal for National Hockey League offensive stars.

Gretzky, who helped turn hockey into a wide-open game, made 100 points merely a starting point. Four times in 5 seasons, the gifted center broke the 200-point barrier. The time he missed, he reached 196.

A number of hockey experts believe that Mario Lemieux, the center of the Pittsburgh Penguins, has replaced Gretzky as the game’s best player.

Barring injury, Lemieux, 23, and in his fifth NHL season, has a good chance to become the second player to reach the 200-point plateau. He may even threaten a couple of Gretzky marks, once considered unattainable.

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Lemieux put on a brilliant display of his offensive ability Saturday at Pittsburgh, scoring 5 goals for the first time in his career and assisting on the other 3 goals in an 8-6 victory over the New Jersey Devils.

The 8 points increased Lemieux’s total to 104 points in 36 games. He missed 2 games with a wrist injury, so he has 42 games in which to wipe out 2 of Gretzky’s records.

Lemieux has 43 goals. The record is 92. Gretzky’s points record is 215, set in 1985-86.

The Penguins needed Lemieux at his best. In their previous 7 games, they were 0-5-2 against the Devils. Saturday, the Devils outshot Pittsburgh, 35-19.

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But with their best goaltender, Sean Burke, out because of a groin injury, the Devils couldn’t stop Lemieux.

He scored on a variety of shots--a penalty shot, short-handed, a power play and into an empty net with 1 second remaining.

The penalty shot was awarded when rookie goalie Chris Terreri threw his stick at the puck.

“I felt real strong after being given Friday off,” Lemieux said. “It really helps about this time of year to get a day of rest. I’m not concerned about records, but I would like to win a second scoring title and play in the playoffs for the first time.”

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When comparing Lemieux to Gretzky, some point out that Gretzky led his team to 4 Stanley Cups in the last 5 seasons. As Lemieux noted, the Penguins have yet to make the playoffs in the 4 seasons he has been there.

But such goals seem attainable for the Penguins. With their best start ever (23-12-3), the Penguins lead the tough Patrick Division by 4 points. With 4 teams in each division qualifying for postseason play, the victory put Pittsburgh 16 points ahead of the fifth-place Devils.

Linemate Rob Brown said the numbers Lemieux posted against the Devils were only half the story.

“Some of the things he did out there were amazing,” he said. “He put the puck through his legs, he made some twirls and was a classic example of the best player in the world.”

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New York Rangers 4, Chicago 1--Despite Lemieux, the Rangers believe they can catch the Penguins. With the return of rookie defenseman Brian Leetch, they are even more confident.

Leetch, who starred for the U.S. Olympic team, was out a month with a broken foot. Since his return, the Rangers are 3-0-1 and trail the Penguins by 4 points.

Leetch set up 3 goals in this game at New York, taking charge after the Blackhawks opened the scoring in the first period. The Blackhawks have lost 10 straight on the road.

New York Islanders 6, Washington 4--Maybe, Al Arbour is beginning to get the Islanders untracked.

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David Volek scored the tie-breaking goal with just 3:36 remaining in regulation at Uniondale, N.Y., to give the Islanders consecutive victories for the first time since Arbour replaced Terry Simpson as coach.

It was only the 10th win in 36 games for the Islanders, who have the worst record in the NHL.

Hartford 3, Detroit 2--The Red Wings’ slump is getting serious. When Ron Francis scored his second goal midway through the final period at Detroit, it gave the Whalers consecutive wins over the Norris Division leaders.

The Red Wings are 1-6-1 in their last 8 games, and their lead, which was solid not long ago, is diminishing rapidly.

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The Whalers had been in an 0-6-2 skid before the Red Wings helped them out.

Francis’ first goal of the night, early in the final period, gave Hartford a 2-1 lead. But Steve Yzerman got his 37th of the season to tie it and extend his scoring streak to 27 games.

Philadelphia 3, Buffalo 2--Dave Poulin skated in alone and beat goaltender Darren Puppa with just 4:44 left at Buffalo to give the Flyers their ninth win in the last 10 games.

Goalie Ron Hextall saved the victory when he stopped Rick Vaive from point-blank range in the last minute.

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Montreal 4, Edmonton 2--The Canadiens have the best record in the league because they play as well on the road as they do at home.

Montreal, which beat the Flames in Calgary Thursday night, became the first team to win at both Calgary and Edmonton on the same trip.

Mike McPhee and Shayne Corson scored 44 seconds apart for the Canadiens to extend their winning streak to 7 games.

Toronto 6, Quebec 1--Walt Poddubny scored his 26th goal halfway through the first period at Toronto, but six different Maple Leafs got the next goals for Toronto’s second win in a row.

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Thursday night, the Maple Leafs ended a 10-game road losing streak with a victory at Quebec.

Winnipeg 4, Calgary 4--The slumping Flames built a 4-0 lead on their home ice, then barely lasted for the tie.

Minnesota 6, St. Louis 2--The North Stars, who gave up 2 goals in the last 33 seconds Friday night at St. Louis to wind up with a tie, breezed at Bloomington, Minn.

Dino Ciccarelli had a hat trick before the game was 24 minutes old, and the North Stars won for the first time in their last 10 meetings with the Blues.

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