The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping for the best, and the Washington Capitals are preparing for him.
Mario Lemieux, the NHL's leading scorer, missed Sunday's opener of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series -- won by Washington, 3-1 -- with a severely bruised shoulder. He also missed the final two regular-season games last week.
But Lemieux might be back for Game 2 tonight at the Capital Centre.
"The shoulder feels better, and I hope to be able to play," Lemieux said. "I have to get more strength back into it [the shoulder], because I have trouble passing and shooting the puck the way it is now."
Capitals coach Terry Murray said he plans to do nothing differently if Lemieux plays.
"We prepared for him playing on Sunday, and we'll do the same things tomorrow," Murray said yesterday after practice at Piney Orchard Rink in Odenton. "If he plays, we'll have to be careful with our matchups. Lemieux is such a great player. He can do so many things. . . . We have to be more concerned with our play away from the puck with him on the ice. We have to continue to be physical and take the body with consistency.
"We're going to go with the belief that Lemieux will play. Now, if he can't go in the second game, then you have to wonder if the injury is more serious than just a bruise, as they've [the Penguins] been telling people."
Don Beaupre, who had 32 saves in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series, said of Lemieux: "He's a great player, and he gives you an added threat to prepare for. But Pittsburgh is far from a one-man team. They have a lot of excellent shooters and a lot of guys with playoff experience."
Penguins right wing Rick Tocchet said: "It would have been nice to have won without him, but we know he'll be ready one of these days. Our main concern right now is winning Game 2."
Capitals defenseman Al Iafrate said: "Lemieux is the greatest player, and, with him not playing, it can work against you. Sometimes, you tend to relax a little because he's out. But the guys on the other team are working harder to make up for his loss. We just have to play our game and beat the team they put on the ice."
Pittsburgh finished the regular season with 343 goals, the most in the NHL, and Washington was second with 330. The first game, however, was low-scoring.
"Playoff games have a tendency of being lower scoring," Murray said. "Everybody plays tougher, tighter defense and the goaltending is usually good. Low-scoring games are more the norm than the exception.
"Both goalies, Beaupre and Tom Barrasso for Pittsburgh, made some huge saves Sunday," Murray said. "Donnie came up with four or five very big stops on two-and-ones and two-on-0's. But great goaltending is the reason you win the Stanley Cup. Barrasso came in the third game last year against us, got hot and carried Pittsburgh to the championship. That's what it takes, a hot goaltender."
Not super without Mario
The Pittsburgh Penguins are 5-10-2 this season without Mario Lemieux (Penguins' score listed first):
Date.... Opponent..... Score... Injury
10/22... Chicago...... 4-4..... back
10/24... N.J. ........ 2-4..... back
10/26... Montreal..... 1-4..... back
1/04.... Winnipeg..... 3-2..... back
1/07.... L.A. ........ 2-5..... back
1/10.... Calgary...... 5-7..... back 1/12.... Vanco'vr..... 4-3..... back 1/30.... Islanders.... 5-8..... back
2/01.... St. Louis.... 4-1..... back
2/03.... Detroit...... 4-4..... back
2/05.... Rangers...... 3-4..... back
2/08.... L.A. ........ 3-4..... back
2/09.... Boston....... 3-6..... back
3/03.... Calgary...... 6-3..... flu
4/15.... Wash. ....... 4-1..... shoulder
4/16.... Rangers...... 1-7..... shoulder
4/19.... Wash. ....... 1-3..... shoulder