In the 365 days preceding Saturday, Mario Lemieux won a scoring title, the Most Valuable award, dominated the NHL All-Star game and negotiated a new multi-million dollar contract.
How do you end a year like that?
With an eight-point, five-goal game that includes a short-handed score and a goal on a penalty shot.
Perhaps as significant was that it all helped the Penguins finally beat the New Jersey Devils.
Behind Lemieux's record-setting performance, the Penguins outlasted the Devils 8-6 before a sellout crowd Saturday Afternoon.
"That was his Christmas gfit, a little late, to me and the fans," coach Gene Ubriaco said. "I would say awesome, but I use that word too much."
The five goals were a Penguins record and the points tied the club record Lemieux set against St. Louis on Oct. 15. Is eight enough?
"No, the [NHL] record is 10," Lemieux said. "Maybe someday."
Lemieux raised his season point total to 104, the third highest climb to that level in league history. Only Wayne Gretzky in 1983-84 and 1984-85 got there faster.
Turs out the Penguins needed each of the points to end a 0-5-2 streak against New Jersey that stretched back to Dec. 17, 1987. The Devils would also like an asterisk placed next to the result, citing extenuating circumstances.
The Devils were without goalie Sean Burke, who has a pulled groin muscle and leading scorer John MacLean, who has an elbow injury.
The goaltending was horrible. Bob Sauve allowed five goals on 10 shots and reliever Chris Terreri maintained the same awful pace, allowing two goals on the first four shots he faced.
The most spectacular score was Lemieux's penalty shot at 11:14 of the second period. Terreri threw his stick at the puck in an effort to stop Lemieux, prompting referee Dan Maourelli to clear the ice for the one-on-one showdown.
Lemieux briefly checked with his own goalie, Tom Barrasso, for a scouting report but figured out the solution. He has converted all three of his career penalty shots. Terreri went down and Lemieux guided the puck through the opening in his legs for a 6-4 lead.
"It seems everything I did out there went right," Lemieux said.
Lemieux needed only 10:59 to register his 16th career hat trick and fourth this season. His first goal was an innocent centering pass that went in off Devils defenseman Craig Wolanin.
He scored shorthanded for the second, then drilled a slapshot past Suave from the left circle.
In the second period, Lemieux passes led to goals by Rob Brown, Dan Quinn and Phil Bourque.
"Some of the things he did out there were amazing even when he didn't score," Brwon said. "He'd put the puck through his legs, he'd make twirls ... it was a classic example of the best hockey player in the world."
The Devils, though, were as hard to shake as ever.
Kirk Muller had two goals and five points as his line consistently worked hard. Jim Korn and Muller scored in the first period and Tommy Albelin, Muller and Kurvers scored in the second.
Anders Carlsson knocked in Muller's pass with 3:26 left in the game to get New Jersey within one.
"I feel bad for our players," New Jersey coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "They worked too hard and did too many things well enough not to win a game. We outshoot them about 2-to-1 (35-19) in their rink with a lineup that has some big holes in it. It shows a lot of perserverance and heart and commitment. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to win the hockey game."
Lemieux iced the win when he fired Jay Caufield's pass into the open net with a second remaining.
The Penguins are trying hard not to be a one-man show but Saturday's performancwe was cleary Lemieux and more Lemieux.
"I don't think so," Lemieux said. "They're doing little things to help me like running interference, things like that."
Ubriaco did a little thing that helped on Friday. He excused Lemieux from the regular paractice.
"I felt pretty good before the game," Lemieux said. "The day off helped me a lot, especially this time of year."
He may well have earned another day off.
GAME NOTES -- Paul Coffey missed the third period with a bruised shoulder. Coffey said he had difficulty raising his right arm ... After going through a 2-for-27 power play slump, the Penguins succeeded on four of six chances ... Lemieux has points in 15 straight games and Quinn ended a three-game droughht. _ Barrasso is 6-1-2 in his last nine games ... Lemieux has seven shorthanded goals, more than 12 NHL teams ... The Penguins head today for Landover, Md., for Monday afternoon's game against the Washington Capitals at 1:30.