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Pittsburgh Survives Loss Of Lemieux

There is life after Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, judging by the Penguins’ season so far. Ron Francis credits the coaching staff and the team’s hard work for the Penguins’ current first-place standing in the Northeast Division.

“I guess I would be lying if, coming into the season, I thought we would be in this position at this point,” Francis says, reflecting on the retirement of the best player in Penguins history. “But, looking at it, the coaching staff (headed by Kevin Constantine) came in and did an excellent job in training camp with a system and preparing the guys. The guys have done an excellent job in taking the system and making it work.”

Francis got his 1,000th assist in the franchise’s 1,000th win Saturday, and added a goal as the Penguins beat Philadelphia 4-3 to end the Flyers’ six-game unbeaten streak.

Jaromir Jagr scored a tiebreaking goal at 5:06 of the third period as the Flyers suffered their first loss under coach Roger Neilson.

The Penguins are 1,000-1,101-326 in 31 seasons. Francis became the seventh player in NHL history to reach 1,000 assists when he set up Fredrik Olausson.

Gretzky milestone not enough

The visiting Detroit Red Wings raced to a four-goal lead behind Kirk Maltby and Nicklas Lidstrom and held off a late rally by New York to beat the Rangers 4-3.

The loss dealt a blow to the playoff hopes of the Rangers, who remained five points behind Ottawa for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.

Wayne Gretzky’s second assist of the game on Alexei Kovalev’s goal gave him 1,900 for his career.

In Inglewood, Calif., Sean O’Donnell scored the go-ahead goal with 7:19 left in the third period and fellow defenseman Rob Blake scored his 20th goal as the Los Angeles Kings beat the Phoenix Coyotes 3-2 despite Daniel Briere’s first NHL goal.

Blake joined Steve Duchesne as the only defensemen in Kings history with at least two 20-goal campaigns.

Pinch me

Rangers rookie goaltender Dan Cloutier is thrilled about playing in the NHL, particularly on the same team with Wayne Gretzky.

“You go out and play street hockey, and everybody wants to be Wayne Gretzky,” Cloutier says. “I’m playing with the guy right now, and practicing with him. It’s something I never thought would happen, and it’s amazing just to get a chance.”

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