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PITTSBURGH Lemieux returns; Pens lose



Published: Sat, February 8, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Vancouver Canucks held on to an early 3-0 lead.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Mario Lemieux's return to the Pittsburgh Penguins lineup didn't faze the Vancouver Canucks.

Lemieux, the NHL scoring leader who had missed all but 3:53 of the Penguins' previous 11 games with a groin injury, played more than 26 minutes and assisted on the first of Alexei Kovalev's two goals Tuesday night.

But the Canucks, who built an early lead on first-period goals by Henrik Sedin and Matt Cooke, stopped all five Pittsburgh power plays and held on for a 3-2 victory.

"It was his first game back, and we knew they were going to feed off that and he was going to take a lot of shots on the power play. Our penalty killing was the difference," said Canucks goalie Dan Cloutier, who made 30 saves. "Our penalty killing has been outstanding all season, and we kept them to the outside tonight."

Four shots

Lemieux finished with four shots in his first full game since Jan. 4, and his presence was a boost to the puck movement of the NHL's top-rated power-play unit.

But that unit couldn't produce a goal and allowed a short-handed goal by Mats Lindgren at 1:38 of the second period that proved to be the game-winner.

"We just made mistakes at the wrong time, the wrong place on the ice," Lemieux said after Pittsburgh turnovers led to two Vancouver goals. "When you miss a month, it's hard to get right back in the swing of things.

"I felt pretty good on the power play, felt like I had time to find the open man. But I got a little tired at the end," Lemieux said. "Conditioning-wise, it's always a challenge."

Sedin and Cooke beat goalie Sebastien Caron on successive first-period shots. Sedin's goal was a centering pass for Todd Bertuzzi that bounced off the skate of Pittsburgh defenseman Ian Moran at 7:48, and Cooke scored after a turnover by defenseman Dick Tarnstrom at 9:33.

Lindgren's first short-handed goal of the season, and the ninth by the Canucks, came after he knocked down a Kovalev pass at his own blue line.

The Canucks fired 39 shots at Caron, who stopped the final 24 while Pittsburgh climbed back into the game.




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