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Islanders 4, Penguins 3 (OT)

By KISHA CIABATTARI UPI Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Mario Lemieux's fragile back just wasn't strong enough to hoist another Stanley Cup for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The team that rode Lemieux's ailing back to post an NHL-record 17 game win streak this season never fully recovered from an emotionally draining season that saw Lemieux develop cancer and late-season back troubles that have plagued his extraordinary nine-year career.

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Without their captain running on all cylinders, the suddenly vulnerable Penguins Friday night saw their bid to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions come to an end.

David Volek converted a 3-on-1 break 5:16 into overtime and Glen Healy stopped 42 shots, sending the New York Islanders to a stunning 4-3 overtime Game 7 upset triumph that dethroned the two-time champions.

Volek blasted his second of the game into the far side from the right circle from 25 feet to help the surprising Islanders advance to the Stanley Cup semifinals for the first time since 1984 and improve to 4-0 in overtime this postseason.

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The upstart Islanders, who shifted injured star Pierre Turgeon sparingly in his first game of the series, will travel to Montreal Sunday afternoon to open the Wales Conference final against the Canadiens.

Lemieux, held to an assist in the game and hampered to about 50 percent efficiency, never emerged from the trainer's room following the Penguins first series loss in 10.

The Penguins, attempting to become the first team to win three straight championships since the Islanders did it from 1980-1983, overcame subpar goaltending from Tom Barrasso and the loss of star winger Kevin Stevens to a concussion to valiantly rally from a two-goal deficit late in the game that forced overtime.

But they couldn't overcome the young, hungry Islanders, who attacked Pittsburgh's slow-footed defense throughout the series. They also could not crack Healy, who fended off most first shots he faced and then relied on his defense to clear away rebounds.

'He was the difference tonight -- no question,' said a dejected Penguins defenseman Larry Murphy. 'He gave them the kind of goaltending you need in this kind of game.'

Barrasso, possibly hiding an injury, clearly didn't -- though no Penguin would admit it.

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'He's played well for us all year -- he's been great,' said Jeff Daniels.

And Friday night? Daniels said Barrasso, who played 63 regular-season games and had a lengthy bout with the chicken pox this year, might have been a little tired.

The Penguins threatened to pull out the game when Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet scored late third-period goals in a span of 2:47 to erase New York's 3-1 lead and keep the Penguins' bid for a third straight Cup alive a little longer.

Francis darted to the right post and slammed Murphy's behind-the-net feed between the legs of Healy with 3:47 left to give the Penguins life. With Barrasso pulled for an extra skater just 2:47 later, Tocchet deflected Francis' deflection of Murphy's airborne wrist shot from the blueline to tie the score, sending the Civic Arena crowd into a frenzy.

'I think we maybe played well enough to win,' said Penguins Coach Scotty Bowman.

Before Francis broke through against Healy, the Penguins were reeling from third-period goals by David Volek and Benoit Hogue 2:59 apart that gave New York a 3-1 lead and stunned the crowd into silence.

The Islanders, who survived a 19-shot barrage by Pittsburgh in the first period against just seven off their own sticks, took control of the neutral zone and the game in the third.

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Volek and Hogue converted consecutive shots at Barrasso -- just the 13th and 14th shots the shaky Pittsburgh goaltender faced -- for New York's 3-1 lead.

Volek, benched for most of the 1992-93 season by Islanders Coach Al Arbour and requesting a trade out of New York, snapped Ray Ferraro's drop pass into the right circle under Barrasso's left pad.

'(Volek's) been playing well so I've kept on playing him,' said Arbour. 'He had a tough year in many ways. I don't think he's my best friend,' joked Arbour, who has been critical of Volek's offensive style in the past.

'It happened so quickly,' said Volek of his winning shot off Ray Ferraro's pass. 'I knew it went in right away. I'm so happy now.'

Ulf Samuelsson broke a scoreless tie at 7:59 of the second to give Pittsburgh the lead, and then made a blind pass late in the period that allowed the Islanders to tie it.

His give-away led to Steve Thomas' tying goal with 1:32 left in the period.

The Penguins lost Stevens to a concussion and broken nose 4:50 into the game when the big left winger impaled himself on Islanders defenseman Richard Pilon's face shield before hitting his head on the ice.

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With both players chasing down the puck in New York's zone, Stevens hurled his 6-3, 225-pound frame at Pilon in the corner and inadvertently slammed his forehead against the shield before collapsing to the ice face-first for an additional blow to the head. Stevens, bleeding profusely from a cut above his right eye, was carried from the ice on a stretcher and will undergo surgery to repair a fractured sinus and nose Saturday.

The Penguins fired 19 first-period shots at Healy, who stopped Joe Mullen and Rick Tocchet point-blank from the slot to keep the game scoreless. He got some help from his left post when Lemieux rang his short-handed breakaway bid off the pipe over seven minutes into the game.

Looking ahead to next season, Murphy wondered aloud if some of his teammates might be wearing different sweaters.

'Hopefully this team can stay together next year and we can try to get (the Cup) back,' he said.

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