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Mario Lemieux generated his amazing offensive pyrotechnics skating alongside some of hockey's all-time great talents: Seven Hall-of-Famers, including Paul Coffey, Ron Francis and Mark Recchi; future Hall-of-Famer Jaromir Jagr; Kevin Stevens and Rick Tocchet, perhaps his best fit as linemates; even Sidney Crosby a bit, at the end of Lemieux's career.
But the climax to Lemieux's most unique accomplishment had an unusual co-conspirator: Jay Caufield.
The enforcer. The fourth-liner. The man with the telestrator on AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh. That Jay Caufield.
When Lemieux scored five goals, five ways in an 8-6 victory against New Jersey on Dec. 31, 1988, Caufield got the lone assist on Lemieux's empty-net goal at 19:59 of the third period.
Caufield eschewed a shot at the open cage to slide the puck cross-ice to Lemieux as both skated toward the Devils' blue line.
"I would never not pass to him," a smiling Caufield said Saturday, discussing Lemieux's feat during a break in the Penguins' 5-2 home win vs. Tampa Bay.
Caufield had eight assists in 208 NHL games. He had four helpers in 58 games that season, a career high.
Without Caufield's apple, it's just another four-goal game for Lemieux.
Lemieux had 10 of those. He had three five-goal games (and another one in the playoffs).
But only one player has scored every way you can in the same NHL game: An even-strength goal, a power-play goal, a short-handed goal, a penalty shot and an empty-net goal.
That was Lemieux on Dec 31, 1988.
Thanks to Caufield.
Caufield, like everybody else, had no idea what was transpiring. Even the media didn't figure out "five goals, five ways" until the next day.
"I didn't know what was happening," Caufield said. "I don't know that Mario knew. We'd seen him do some unbelievable things. That was just another one. What he did each and every night, it was always amazing."
Video: 1988: Mario Lemieux scores five different ways
The 1988-89 season was Lemieux's finest in terms of production: He had 85 goals, 114 assists, 199 points, 31 power-play goals and 13 short-handed goals, all league-best figures and career highs. Lemieux's 13 short-handed goals set an NHL record that stills stands.
Caufield's duties didn't often include protecting one-goal leads in the late going. But there he was, on the ice to help make history.
"The coach, Gene Ubriaco, always tried to get me some different minutes, to see how I handled it," Caufield recalled. "I remember the conversation when he tapped me on the shoulder. He said, 'Here's your opportunity. Go out and see what you can do.' "
Caufield's pass to Lemieux didn't come a second too soon: Lemieux's shot entered the net as the final horn sounded. Referee Dan Marouelli provided a final exclamation point by signaling that the goal counted.
"I turned and looked at the clock," Caufield said. "It was close."
Count Caufield among those who think "five goals, five ways" will never be duplicated.
"I would think not," Caufield said. "Now guys on the power play don't see penalty-kill time anymore. For the most part, everything is so specialized, even more than it was before."
Caufield is now an analyst on Penguins' telecasts, using a telestrator to highlight and diagram.
His pass to Lemieux "would be easy to draw up," Caufield said, laughing. "Like I said, I would never not pass to him."
Lemieux's feat is a finalist in the NHL "Greatest Moments" competition as determined by on-line voting. Lemieux's one-of-a-kind explosion is up against Bobby Orr's overtime goal that won the Stanley Cup for Boston in 1970.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).