- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

PITTSBURGH Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux, his team fading fast from playoff contention, is expected to miss the rest of the season because of the painful hip injury that has bothered him since training camp.
Lemieux was advised yesterday by team physicians to rest and rehabilitate the injury, which slowed him substantially even as he helped Canada win the Olympic gold medal.
Medical tests revealed chronic tendinitis in one of Lemieux's hip flexor muscles, as well as inflammation of the hip capsule. As a result, Lemieux was told that playing again this season could lead to further damage.
The 36-year-old Lemieux, six-time NHL scoring champion and Hall of Famer, still plans to play next season.
"While I'm disappointed I can't be in the lineup, I am satisfied that I have identified the problem with my hip," Lemieux said. "The doctors have told me that this period of rest and rehabilitation is necessary so that I can make a full recovery and get back in the lineup next season."
On Tuesday, Lemieux said doctors had been unable to pinpoint the cause of the pain. He also confirmed he had several painkilling injections to keep him on the ice during the Olympics and estimated he was playing only at 50 to 60 percent capacity.
Lemieux also is believed to have gotten a shot before getting two assists in a 5-4 loss Wednesday night to Los Angeles, making him the seventh player in NHL history with 1,600 points.
The Penguins' owner/player initially injured the hip during training camp in late September. After skating in obvious pain for several weeks, he had arthroscopic surgery Oct. 29 to remove loose cartilage.
He resumed playing less than two weeks later but played only three games before sitting out the next two months after doctors advised additional rest. Lemieux returned again Jan. 12 and later produced 13 points in four games during a six-game winning streak.
But Lemieux clearly seemed bothered again by the pain just before the Olympics, and he went without a goal in his final five games before the break. The pain worsened to the point where he considered not playing in the Olympics.
But after the Team Canada captain sat out one game to rest, he returned with his hip and groin heavily wrapped to score two goals in a 3-3 tie against the Czech Republic on Feb. 18. He went on to play a key role as Canada won its final three games to gain its first Olympic gold medal in 50 years.
During the Olympics, Lemieux revealed he took time off and skipped some Penguins games because he considered the Olympics his priority this season.
The Lemieux injury couldn't come at a worse time for the Penguins, who broke an eight-game winless streak with last night's 4-3 overtime victory against Columbus. They likely will miss the postseason for the first time since 1990 unless they win 16 or 17 of their final 23 games.
Lemieux has six goals and 25 assists for 31 points in 24 games, the fewest games he's played in any season in which he's been active since 1993-94. He was limited to 22 games that season by back surgery to repair a herniated disc, which came only months after he was successfully treated for Hodgkin's disease a form of cancer.
Lemieux retired after the 1996-97 season and later led the group that bought the Penguins, only to stun the NHL by unexpectedly ending his 44-month retirement in late December 2000. He went on to lead the Penguins to the Eastern Conference finals, getting 35 goals and 41 assists in 43 games.
Going into this season, Lemieux said had never felt better and expected to contend for another scoring title, only to injure the hip even before the regular season began.
The Penguins also learned yesterday that forward Martin Straka will be out indefinitely because of a broken orbital and sinus bone around his left eye.
Straka was injured Wednesday, only two shifts into his first game since breaking a leg Oct. 28, when he was accidentally clipped by goalie Johan Hedberg's stick. Straka tied for fourth in the NHL in scoring with 95 points last season.
The Penguins also played a month this season without Alexei Kovalev (knee surgery), who tied Straka with 95 points last season.

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