BOSTON -- Kevin Stevens grew up in the Boston area as a hockey fan. He played as an amateur for Boston College and almost became a Bruins employee last summer.
Instead, the big left wing remained a Penguin, and he scored four goals last night to help his Pittsburgh teammates beat the home team, 5-1, at Boston Garden.
The first three goals were on a natural hat trick in the first period, staking the Penguins to a 3-0 lead.
The defending Stanley Cup champions now hold a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Wales Conference final. The winner of this series will play the winner of the Chicago-Edmonton series in the Stanley Cup finals. Chicago leads that series, 3-0.
"It couldn't happen in a better place," said Stevens, who performed before several family members and many friends. "I hadn't scored in five games. When you are a goal scorer, you worry about those things."
Asked if they are smelling a repeat of their first championship of last season, Stevens smiled and replied, "Yeah, I know I can. We smell that cup, like you say."
After falling behind in the first round to Washington and twice battling back from two-game deficits, the Penguins ousted the Capitals in seven games and then eliminated the New York Rangers in six despite falling behind after three games.
Since then, they have won six consecutive games and their best player, Mario Lemieux, has returned from a broken left hand. He played well again in his second game back, getting three assists. So did Jaromir Jagr, who skates on a line with Lemieux and Stevens.
The NHL record for goals in a playoff game is five, held by five players, including Lemieux. Bryan Trottier had the other Pittsburgh goal.
Joe Juneau, a Boston rookie, scored early in the third period to cut the lead to 4-1, but left the game 62 seconds later with a five-minute major penalty for high-sticking Ulf Samuelsson.
The incident caused Samuelsson to bleed and lose two teeth as the capacity crowd of 14,448 cheered for one of the few times in the evening. Samuelsson returned to the game.
Last spring, when these teams played in the same round, Boston's Cam Neely was injured in a collision with Samuelsson. The Bruins blame Samuelsson for the thigh injury, which, along with a subsequent complication involving his knee, caused Neely to miss most of the season.
"It was just an accident," Samuelsson said of his injury. "It happens in hockey." Several fans in the arena wore T-shirts with obscene messages regarding Samuelsson.
Stevens was a free agent last summer, and the Bruins offered him a five-year contract worth $5.3 million. The Penguins matched the offer and kept him. During the regular season, Stevens had 54 goals and 69 assists for 123 points, second in the league to Lemieux, who had 131.
Coming into last night's game, Stevens had seven goals and 12 assists in the playoffs, but only two assists in this series. His statistics began to change dramatically at 9:08 of the first period after the Bruins had carried the play with heavy forechecking in the Pittsburgh zone.
On a transition play, the Penguins burst out quickly with the puck on Lemieux's stick. Jagr churned up ice on his left and Stevens flew along his right, both opposite their usual positions.
Lemieux faked around Jim Wiemer and dropped a pass for Jagr. Ray Bourque, Wiemer's defense partner, slid across the slot in a vain attempt to break up the play.
Instead of shooting, Jagr fed the puck forward to Stevens, who beat Andy Moog from the corner of the crease to make it 1-0. It turned out to be the play that decided the game, as the Bruins were outplayed and outclassed the rest of the way.
"That was a nice little rush," Stevens said.
His second goal, on the power play at 12:42, came on a pass from behind the net after Moog stopped it and accidentally left it for the wrong team. His third goal, at 15:03, was after a pass from Lemieux. His fourth goal came at 14:31 of the third period.
The Bruins seemed disoriented. Several times, they took too long to shoot and wasted their chances. When they did pull the trigger, Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso made several excellent saves.