PITTSBURGH -- There was no logical reason for Mario Lemieux to play in Game 2 of the NHL's Wales Conference finals last night.
For starters, the guy has a broken left hand.
Plus, his team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, played terribly in Game 1 on Sunday without him and still beat the Boston Bruins. They also had a three-game winning streak at the Civic Arena.
Why risk further injury this early in the series?
But there he was, No. 66, making the crowd go giddy during the pre-game warmup. Hey, the Penguins said after beating the Bruins, 5-2, last night, these are the Stanley Cup playoffs. If you can skate and hold your stick, you play.
And did Lemieux -- who missed five full games and most of a sixth after being slashed by Adam Graves of the New York Rangers on May 5 -- ever play.
He was a little tentative early, but the heart and soul of the Penguins scored a clutch insurance power-play goal at 12:47 of the third period, an empty-netter at the end, chipped in an assist on the game-winner in the second period, killed penalties and made at least a dozen great passes as the Pens took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven series, which shifts to Boston tomorrow.
It was the Penguins' fifth victory in a row, tying a team playoff record.
"He decided he wanted to play," Penguins coach Scotty Bowman said of Lemieux, who wore a cast under his pads. "It's risky for anybody coming off an injury. But he said it's a bigger risk if we don't win and go [to Boston] 1-1."
Lemieux wasn't the only superstar to return to action last night.
Boston defenseman Ray Bourque returned from a three-game absence because of a broken finger on his right hand. Bourque contributed an assist as Adam Oates extended his point streak to a playoff-high seven games with a power-play goal at 9:43 of the third period.
But the Bruins' captain lacked the support that Lemieux enjoyed.
Troy Loney, Jaromir Jagr and Rick Tocchet added goals for the Penguins. Only Glen Murray also scored for the Bruins.
"It was my final decision," Lemieux said. "I got into a bad position a couple of times. But in a few days it should feel even better. I didn't consider it that much of a risk."
Lemieux's presence made the atmosphere electric. The sellout crowd of 16,164 erupted in a thunderous cheer when they did not hear Lemieux's name mentioned on the scratch list before the game, and the anticipation of his first appearance on the ice was thick when the game got under way.
Perhaps the Penguins themselves got caught up in the excitement, because they allowed right winger Murray to set up all alone in the right circle and beat Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso just 59 seconds into the game.
These Penguins, though, are a tough team to keep down.
"That woke us up," winger Kevin Stevens said.
Lemieux made his first appearance at 3:39 on the Penguins' first power play, and Pittsburgh tied the score less than three minutes later when left winger Loney tipped in a point shot by Paul Stanton at 6:02.
Jagr, who already has tied the team record for game-winning goals in a single playoff year with four, gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead with his eighth goal of the playoffs at 17:07.
In the second period, Lemieux began taking regular shifts, and he set up Tocchet's power-play goal at 11:35.
"I felt good at practice [Monday] and even better [yesterday]," Lemieux said. "After the second power play, I felt like I was ready to get into more traffic."