EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey, AP
The extra rest didn’t make the difference for the Pittsburgh Penguins — Mario Lemieux did. Lemieux ignited a three-goal second period by setting up goals by Aleksey Morozov and Alexei Kovalev in a 207 span, and the Penguins rallied from a 2-0 deficit to beat the New Jersey Devils 4-2 on Tuesday night. “There was no way that we were going to shut him down the whole series,” Devils goalie Martin Brodeur said of Super Mario. “It’s almost impossible. This guy is a great player. You have to limit his chances. I thought we did, but that’s what he does. He makes plays that make a difference in a game. The first two goals were all him.” Well, almost. The Devils gave this one away in allowing the Penguins to even the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals 1-1. They built the lead and then stopped playing the tight checking brand of hockey that made them champions a year ago. “I think for some reason or another, they wanted to do it their way again,” coach Larry Robinson said of his team’s latest playoff lapse. “Every time they play their way, we gave up goals.” Games 3 and 4 are Thursday and Saturday in Pittsburgh. Rene Corbet scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, and Robert Lang added another in the third for the Penguins. Jay Pandolfo and Petr Sykora scored for the Devils, who had an apparent goal by Patrik Elias nullified with 702 to go when referee Kevin Pollack lost sight of the puck during a scramble in front of goalie Johan Hedberg. All-Star defenseman Scott Niedermayer returned to the Devils lineup for the first time since Toronto’s Tie Domi knocked him out with an elbow nearly two weeks ago. The Penguins, who showed little energy playing on 45 hours rest in Game 1, appeared headed for another loss after Hedberg gave up two soft goals in the first period. “It didn’t look too good after the first 20 minutes,” said Lemieux, who didn’t have a shot in Game 1. “We came back and were upset about it. We made some adjustments and started to skate a lot better.” Pittsburgh’s chances seemed to worsen after Corbet was whistled for holding at 900 of the second. However, 10 seconds after Corbet went to the box, the Penguins were back in the game. Right after the faceoff, Lemieux led a 2-on-1 break with Morozov. Lemieux snapped a shot off Martin Brodeur’s pads, and Morozov whacked the rebound into an open net. “When we got the first goal everybody started to believe,” Hedberg said. “We had a good couple of minutes, and we were back in the game. Mario was once again there to make the big plays for us.” Hedberg, who picked up his game in the final two periods, kept it a one-goal game with a great pad save on Scott Gomez’s breakaway at the end of the power play. “I thought I had him, but he made a great save,” Gomez said. Then it was again time for Lemieux, who rescued the Penguins in the conference semifinals against Buffalo, scoring late in Game 6 to force overtime with his team on the verge of elimination. This time, he jumped off the bench and intercepted a clearing pass by defenseman Ken Daneyko. He backhanded a soft pass to Kovalev, who fired a one-timer past Brodeur. “It’s like a repeat story of every series with Mario,” Kovalev said. “He’s definitely the guy who kick-started us, especially winning the draw and going down with Morozov to score, because we had nothing going on.” Corbet’s first goal of the playoffs was a fluke. Wayne Primeau knocked down a clearing pass by defenseman Sean O’Donnell. Defenseman Brian Rafalski tried to hit the puck out of the zone, but Corbet knocked it down and one-timed the puck between Brodeur’s legs. “The puck was bouncing,” Corbet said. “I had a good whack at it and I think I surprised Marty.” Kovalev set up Lang’s insurance goal at 505 with a nice pass from behind the net. Hedberg, the minor leaguer who won the starting job late in the season and then emerged as a star in the playoffs, gave up two bad goals in allowing New Jersey to take the lead. Pandolfo got the first on what looked like a cross-ice pass intended for Sergei Nemchinov, driving to the net to the left of the goalie. Hedberg put his stick out to block the pass, but the puck jumped, hit his blocker and went down and into the net at 802. Sykora scored on a short-handed breakaway with a slap shot between Hedberg’s pads. It was his team-high seventh goal of the playoffs, but one Hedberg knew he should have stopped, slamming his stick to the ice in disgust. Hedberg almost knocked another puck into the net in the opening minute of the second period, trying to handle a pass from behind the goal line by New Jersey’s Alexander Mogilny.