PITTSBURGH -- Everything you've heard, read or seen about Mario Lemieux, believe it doubled and tack on about a dozen of your best adjectives.
Beaten badly by the Capitals in Washington in their first two playoff games, the Pittsburgh Penguins took up a comfortable position on the shoulders of Lemieux and just sat back and enjoyed the ride last night. Held to a pair of assists in his first two outings since returning from a severely injured shoulder, Lemieux scored three goals and assisted on three as the Penguins recovered from a bad opening period and clobbered Washington, 6-4.
Game 4 of this suddenly wild Patrick Division semifinal series continues tomorrow night.
Fortunate to be trailing by just 2-1 after a period after looking positively feeble on five power plays, Lemieux restored order and assisted on goals by Joe Mullen and Jaromir Jagr before notching his goals during a 4-0 romp in the second period.
Staked to this comfortable lead, the Penguins simply howitzed the puck into the Washington end of the ice any time they got their sticks on it during the third period.
The Caps took the boisterous Civic Arena crowd out of the early going by scoring a short-handed goal on only their second trip down ice.
Rod Langway was forced to take a tripping penalty to prevent a breakaway, and it proved to be a blessing for Washington.
The Penguin defensemen were pinched in too far from the blueline when Mike Ridley intercepted a pass and he and Kevin Hatcher had a two-on-one break going from the top of the circles in their own zone.
Ridley carried the puck to midway in the Pittsburgh zone before delivering it on Hatcher's forehand about 25 feet in front of Tom Barrasso. Hatcher slipped it by the goalie on his glove side and the game was less than two minutes old.
It was the seventh straight goal registered by the Capitals in the series, going back to Tuesday night when they scored the last six in a 6-2 triumph at the Capital Centre.
The teams forgot about hockey for awhile, both trying to get some cheap shots in out of sight of referee Don Koharski. He was on top of things, however, and after several retaliation-type penalties, they settled down to some exciting if erratic end-to-end play.
The crowd had cause to get off its hands about a third of the way through the period when Lemieux cruised behind the Caps' goal and delivered a pass to Phil Bourque at exactly the right time for the former Baltimore Skipjack to rap it past Don Beaupre.
Icings, offsides and other mistakes marked the next several minutes of play before the Penguins were treated to a two-man advantage situation for a whopping 100 seconds. The way they played it, it might as well have been 100 years.
The Penguins seemed unclear on how to attack the triangle defense and the shots they sent Beaupre's way created no serious problems.
No sooner had the Caps thwarted Pittsburgh's fifth power play attempt in the period when it had a men sent off and the Caps converted in just six seconds. Pivonka got the puck to Dale Hunter on the left wing and he blistered the puck past Barrasso to the far post where Dimitri Khristich was waiting to deflect it in.
Pittsburgh squared it at 2-2 at 1:46 of the second session, Joe Mullen tapping in a shot sent across the Washington crease by Lemieux.
Marvelous Mario was at it again six minutes later, his pass sending Jaromir Jagr in off to Beaupre's left and Jagr netted his first goal of the series. And Lemieux was just getting started.
Late in the period, Paul Stanton stepped in to grab a errant Cap pass, sent it ahead to Lemieux and he easily beat Beaupre with an inside-out shot from 20 feet with a defender all over him.
Just a few moments later and once again treated to a 2-man advantage, the Penguins pushed their advantage to 5-2 as Lemieux tucked the puck in from close range on a feed from Kevin Stevens.
After going 0-for-5 on power plays in the first period, Pittsburgh checked in with a classy 3-for-4 in the second 20 minutes.
NOTES -- With Randy Burridge back in Washington nursing a hyperextended knee, Todd Krygier got the call to skate on the fourth line. . . . After losing the first two games of the series, the Penguins all-time playoff record fell to 44-44. . . .The Caps carry a 39-42 mark in this their 10th straight visit to postseason play.