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Mario a no go in Pittsburgh

by Staff Writer / Toronto Maple Leafs
PITTSBURGH (AP) - Pittsburgh Penguins star Mario Lemieux will miss a game with an injury for the first time this season when he sits out Thursday's contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs because of a sore groin.

The way the Penguins are going injury-wise, it's almost good news.

They also learned Wednesday that starting goaltender Johan Hedberg will be out indefinitely with a broken collarbone.

Lemieux, the NHL's top scorer with 68 points in 40 games, was injured during the second period of Tuesday's 6-3 loss to the New York Islanders. He tried to return for a shift after getting hurt, only to come back to the bench immediately after losing a faceoff.

"This is the first time in my career I've missed a game with a groin pull; it's just one of those things,"Lemieux said Wednesday. "I kind of got hooked from behind and slipped at the same time, and I felt a little pop."

Mario Lemieux will not be in the lineup against the Leafs on Thursday.
Graig Abel Photography
Lemieux expects to skate Friday and play Saturday at home against the New York Rangers, but said the worst thing he could do is rush himself back and get re-injured.

"I've just got to make sure it's 100 per cent by the time I get back, and that's been tough for me to do over the years," Lemieux said. "I've got to be patient."

Lemieux especially wants to avoid a repeat of last season, when a persistently sore hip forced him to miss three-quarters of the season. Until now, he has missed only a 4-1 Penguins win at Buffalo on Nov. 29 that he sat out to rest during a stretch of three games in four nights.

Hedberg has been the most reliable of the Penguins' goalies with a 12-10-3 record and 2.82 goals-against average. Until he returns, most of the playing time falls to Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who is 5-11 with a 3.02 GAA that ranks 64th among the 80 NHL goalies to play this season.

"There's a lot of responsibility on him right now, and all we need from him is to get ready for every game and try to keep us in every game," forward Alexei Kovalev said.

With Hedberg out, the Penguins recalled goalie Sebastien Caron from Wilkes-Barre of the AHL on Tuesday.

The Penguins were missing nearly half of their veteran players during a winless five-game road trip last month, so they've grown accustomed to bad injury news. Even now, they're still without defenceman Dick Tarnstrom (hamstring) and forwards Aleksey Morozov (broken wrist), Jan Hrdina (lower back spasms) and Kris Beech (appendectomy).

The Penguins (17-16-3-5) have shown resilience, Lemieux said, by staying in playoff contention despite one of the most staggering sequences of injuries he can remember since joining the team in 1984.

Lacking the financial resources to trade for a proven player or two to fill in the gaps, Lemieux said it has been difficult for the Penguins to build any momentum. Still, they righted themselves following a 10-game losing streak that ended Dec. 21 by going 6-1-0-1 in their next eight games.

With a five-game road trip coming up following Saturday's game, Lemieux said the Penguins can't afford another letdown.

"It's been an up-and-down season with all the injuries, it's been tough to get going and put a few games together," Lemieux said. "But, overall, the team has stuck together and that's encouraging to see.

"Even though we're going through a tough period, the team has stayed together."
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