- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 16, 2001


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. When New Jersey's Scott Gomez closed in on Pittsburgh goalie Johan Hedberg on a breakaway last night, it appeared almost certain the center would give the Devils a two-goal advantage and put down the Penguins' uprising.

It didn't happen that way. Hedberg, still a rookie in the NHL, kicked out his left leg and stopped Gomez's drive with the toe of his left skate. With that move a game turned.

Pittsburgh scored three times in the middle period to erase a two-goal deficit and bullied its way to a stunning 4-2 victory over New Jersey at Continental Airlines Arena, evening the Eastern Conference finals at a game apiece. Game 3 is tomorrow night in Pittsburgh's Mellon Arena.

Hedberg and Mario Lemieux played starring roles for Pittsburgh, which recovered from a poor start to control the last 32 minutes of the game. Lemieux, who had been all but invisible in the first period, set up his team's first two goals and was a constant rallying force for the Penguins.

What the Penguins did to the Devils last night was what the Devils did to the Penguins on Saturday night in the opener. Pittsburgh turned its game around completely about eight minutes into the middle period. Not only did the Devils not have an answer, their game floundered, and repeated turnovers played straight into the Penguins' hand.

"Everything they got we gave to them," New Jersey coach Larry Robinson said. "The biggest problem was we were up 2-0 and tried to get offensive. We got caught with four guys down low on the power play, which, with a 2-0 lead, is the biggest no-no, especially when you've got Mario on the ice. You can't get four guys caught down low like that."

Robinson was referring to the situation he felt turned the game. New Jersey had the two-goal lead when Rene Corbet was called for holding 9:10 into the second. Instead of playing their usual sound, disciplined game, four of the Devils went for the kill, only they forgot one thing the puck. Lemieux had it and fired a short-handed blast at Martin Brodeur, who made the stop but flicked the puck away. It went right to Alexei Morozov, and he made it a 2-1 game.

"That was the start of it," Robinson said, referring to the collapse that followed. Pittsburgh put two more goals past Brodeur in the next seven minutes. "After that we stopped moving the puck up, the defense was slow moving it, the forwards were slow getting back. We just wanted to play it easy, play an offensive game, and we paid the price for it."

Shortly thereafter Gomez was foiled. Alexei Kovalev scored off another Lemieux feed, and then Corbet, who had just 5 1/2 minutes of ice time last night, got the game-winner when Scott Niedermayer and Sean O'Donnell both turned the puck over in front of Brodeur.

Jay Pandolfo's first of the playoffs and Petr Sykora's seventh, a short-handed effort, staked the Devils to a 2-0 first period lead. The Penguins played horribly "It didn't look too good in the first 20 minutes," Lemieux said and it looked for sure New Jersey would head to Game 3 with a 2-0 lead in the series.

"We came back [to the dressing room], and we were upset about it," Lemieux said. "Obviously we made some adjustments and started to skate a little better, playing the zone better. They are a very talented team."

Was there a little yelling, perhaps a few items tossed across the room to get everybody's attention?

"We didn't yell at each other," Lemieux said. "Maybe in January or February but at this time everybody is saying the right things to help each other and say something that really matters to the outcome of the game."

Notes Niedermayer, concussed by Tie Domi's elbow in the Toronto series, and Sergei Brylin returned from injuries last night for New Jersey… . The Devils hadn't allowed an even-strength goal in three games, but Pittsburgh got three of them last night… . In seven of Pittsburgh's last eight games, the team scoring first has lost, reversing a lopsided league trend… . Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr played together only on power plays last night, and it seems it will stay that way for a while.

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