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TWO BEATINGS TARNISH STRING BY LEMIEUX

Craig Patrick, the Pittsburgh Penguins' new coach and general manager, referred to it as a "lost weekend." Mario Lemieux managed to keep his scoring streak alive, but that was about the only sign of life in his team by the time Pittsburgh's back-to-back nightmare had concluded.

Only 24 hours after losing, 9-3, to the Islanders, the Penguins lost, 7-2, to the Sabres in the Aud Sunday. That's 16 goals in two games, which is surely a more significant concern than Lemieux's 39-game scoring streak.

So one can only wonder if Lemieux's streak, and the gathering national attention now being paid to it, has become a distraction for his team.

"I don't think so," said Bob Errey, Lemieux's left winger. "I'm sure we think about it, but it doesn't matter one way or another as long as we win games. It doesn't matter to us, and it doesn't matter to Mario if he gets his point. It's not a priority."

Maybe so, but Lemieux made it pretty clear after Sunday's game that the streak is very much on his mind, and that it has begun to influence his play somewhat.

"Well, there's a certain amount of pressure," said Lemieux, whose goal gave him an even 100 points for the season. "I felt pressure today, and it's going to continue to build as the streak goes on. . . . It's important to me to prove to myself and to the people that I can be consistent, and if I can do it for 52 games (Wayne Gretzky's point-scoring record), it will be a nice accomplishment.

"It's getting tougher and tougher, especially when I don't get it early in the game. You start thinking about it and your play is affected by it."

Lemieux said the pressure was particularly great during power plays Sunday. The Penguins had seven man advantages, but didn't capitalize until Lemieux banged in a rebound midway through the third period. By then it was already 6-1. On Pittsburgh's first five power plays, he got off only one shot.

"If I want to keep the streak going," Lemieux said, "we're going to have to play better as a team and get the lead right off the bat. Then we can dictate the kind of game it is."
Lemieux's power-play goal came after a questionable interference call on the Sabres' Kevin Maguire. Asked about the call, Sabres coach Rick Dudley suggested in a roundabout way that the officials might have had Lemieux's best interests at heart.

"Are you asking me if I thought maybe he (the referee) wanted him to keep the streak alive?" Dudley said. "I don't know. . . . If I was the president of the NHL, I certainly would. But I don't know if they direct anybody that way. I doubt it."
Alexander Mogilny, still suffering from his mysterious case of stomach flu, didn't suit up. Dudley also scratched Jeff Parker, choosing to use rookie Ken Priestlay on a checking line with Dave Snuggerud and Ray Sheppard.

Priestlay, a goal-scoring machine at Rochester, got four shots on goal but again failed to notch his first NHL goal of the season.

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