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Penguins Have Fun and Sun, Beat Kings, 7-5

February 14, 1988|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

If nothing else, the game Saturday night at the Forum showed that Penguins can survive in the warmth of Southern California.

That would be the Pittsburgh Penguins, out of the playoffs since 1982, but making a strong bid this season behind their leader, Mario Lemieux, the toast of the National Hockey League in his fourth year.

After spending two free days lying in the sun, the Penguins won at the Forum for the first time since March 19, 1983, ending a six-game losing streak in Los Angeles with a 7-5 victory over the Kings before a crowd of 13,658.

Lemieux, the NHL's scoring leader, had a hand in all but one goal for the Penguins, equaling a club record with his six points and falling one short of a club record with five assists.

"I don't think when we come to L.A. that we're ready mentally," Lemieux said before the game. "The weather is part of the reason. You sit by the pool for a few days, get away from hockey, and you lose your concentration."

The Penguins won only once in their previous 15 games at the Forum, but they overcame a 5-3 second-period deficit to improve their record to 25-24-9, which moved them into second place in the Patrick Division, three points behind the division-leading Philadelphia Flyers.

Paul Coffey added two goals and three assists for the Penguins, but just as he had in the All-Star game last Tuesday night, when he set an All-Star record with six points, Lemieux overshadowed everyone with his brilliance.

"You just hate to see that guy," King goaltender Rollie Melanson said of Lemieux, who leads the NHL with 120 points in 55 games. "He's got more moves and shots up his sleeve than anyone I've seen."

Said King Coach Robbie Ftorek: "I think he's developing into a very nice hockey player. Everyone has their own description. Let that be mine."

Developing into a very nice hockey player?

Said Pittsburgh Coach Pierre Creamer: 'I saw him when he was 13 years old, and he was doing that."

At 22, Lemieux is being called the most gifted player in a league that Wayne Gretzky has dominated in his eight seasons with the Edmonton Oilers.

In the race for the scoring title, Lemieux is 17 points ahead of Gretzky.

"During the games, I don't think about it," Lemieux said of his race with The Great One. "Getting the team to the playoffs is my first goal."

The two may go hand in hand.

His play was the difference against the Kings, won five of their previous six games at the Forum.

The Kings led, 3-2, after an entertaining first period.

Randy Cunneyworth scored for the Penguins 27 seconds into the game, redirecting a shot by Lemieux.

A determined individual effort by Luc Robitaille helped pull the Kings even with 9:59 left in the period. With defenseman Jim Johnson pinning Robitaille's left arm and riding him to the ice in front of the net, Robitaille managed to push the puck toward the goal line with his stick.

Robitaille's teammate, Jimmy Carson, was shoved by Randy Hillier into goaltender Frank Pietrangelo just as the puck arrived at the goal, and Robitaille's shot hit Carson's skate and slid through Pietrangelo's legs.

The Kings had a two-man advantage not long afterward, but still managed to fall behind, 2-1, after Lemieux took a pass from Coffey and scored on a breakaway.

Jim Fox and Dave Taylor scored in a 1-minute 16-second span to give the Kings a 3-2 lead.

Fox took a pass from Bernie Nicholls and streaked down the slot, beating Pietrangelo to the glove side. Taylor took a pass from Carson, who battled three Penguins along the left side, poking the puck ahead with his stick. Taylor caught up to it, made a nice move and and scored on a back-handed shot.

Dan Quinn scored for Pittsburgh on a rebound in the second period, pulling the Penguins even, 3-3, with the Kings' Larry Playfair in the penalty box.

The power-play goal was the first allowed in 24 opportunities by the Kings, who gave up only one goal during a manpower disadvantage in their previous seven games.

Craig Laughlin, acquired Tuesday in a trade that sent Grant Ledyard to the Washington Capitals, scored a power-play goal for the Kings with 9:30 left in the period, and Lyle Phair scored on a rebound 91 seconds later to give the Kings a 5-3 advantage.

Coffey, though, scored twice from the left circle for the Penguins in the last 5:09, pulling them even again entering the final period.

The Penguins took a 6-5 lead with 10:55 left on a 25-foot shot from the right circle by Rod Buskas, who took a one-handed pass from Lemieux, who was surrounded by three Kings as he skated down the left side.

King Notes

Mario Lemieux has scored six points three times in his career. . . . In three games against the Kings this season, Lemieux had 6 goals and 6 assists. . . . Jimmy Carson's first-period goal was his 40th of the season and 12th in 7 games. . . . Craig Laughlin, who wore No. 18 with the Washington Capitals, will wear No. 81 with the Kings. Laughlin, who played only sparingly this season at Washington, said he hopes to turn his season around, so he has turned his number around. Also, Dave Taylor already wears No. 18.

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