Hockey Central

Mario with Lord Stanley

Mario Lemieux faced some very high expectations in Pittsburgh. Over 3,000 fans showed up at the Civic Arena on June 9, 1984 to watch the Penguins draft Mario on closed circuit TV. The Penguins went 16-58-6 the year before drafting Lemieux and averaged 6,000 per game... But in September of 1984, over 400 fans showed up at an intrasquad scrimmage to see his first goal and rose to their feet in an uproar. The fans could feel things were changing in Pittsburgh for the better. In Mario Lemieux's first game as a Pittsburgh Penguin, in his first shift ever, on his first shot ever, Super Mario scored his first NHL goal against the Boston Bruins. Lemieux stole the puck from All-Star defenseman Ray Borque 2:59 into the game and beat the Bruins' All-Star goalie, Pete Peters on the play.

During Lemieux's rookie season, he became only the third rookie in NHL history to score at least 100 points. Also in his rookie season, Super Mario was the MVP of the All-Star game and won the Calder Trophy (Best Rookie) in a landslide. Mario Lemieux had more important things on his mind than these awards though... "It was always a dream of mine growing up to be recognized as one of the best players in the NHL. My only goals now are to help the Pittsburgh Penguins win hockey games and reach the playoffs." -Super Mario.

On January 31, 1988, Lemieux became the first and only NHL player to score five different ways in one game. Against the NJ Devils, Super Mario scored at even strength, on the power play, shorthanded, on a penalty shot, and finally into an empty net.... Mario Lemieux became the most dominant force in hockey.

But in the 1988 playoffs, the Philadelphia Flyers found an achilles heel - "We just have to keep the puck away from Mario". They were right. After sweeping the Rangers, the Pens entered game 5 against the Flyers where Lemieux racked up 5 goals and three assists. The Flyers changed their game plan to shut down Mario and make the other Pens beat them. They didn't. The Flyers took games six and seven to boot the Pens out of the playoffs. By 1989, the Penguins began to address this issue. Over the next couple of years, the Penguins added players like Ron Francis, Ulf Samuelsson, and Paul Coffey.

Jaromir Jagr arrived in Pittsburgh and became Mario Jr. The Pens were on their way. In 1991, the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Minnesota North Stars for their first Stanley Cup. Lemiuex had started to feel his health problems taking control and he was in and out of the lineup. Sitting out game 3, Mario watched the Stars take a 2-1 series lead. Mario came back for game 4 and scored 2:58 into the 1st period. Dave Gagner, Stars center put it best when he said: "When somebody that big and that good wants to win that badly, there isn't much you can do to stop him." Indeed. The Pens crushed the Stars 8-0 in game 6 to win their first Stanley Cup. In 1992, the Penguins fought through adversity and Lemieux through injury, including a slash by the Rangers' Adam Graves that ended up in a broken hand, to face the Blackhawks in the finals. The Pens swept the Hawks and Lemieux led all playoff scorers with 34 points even though he missed five games with injury.... It seems like a good time to look at the numbers now...