QUEBEC, JAN. 27 -- Mario Lemieux resumed his career as if there hadn't been any interruption at all. And he got to do it in front of his family in his native province.
"It was special to play this first match in Quebec in front of my father, my mother, my brother and several friends," Lemieux said Saturday night after assisting on three goals in the Pittsburgh Penguins' 6-5 victory over the Nordiques.
"For the past week or so, I'd set the Nordiques game as my objective, but nothing could be confirmed because from one day to the next we didn't know how I'd react to the training sessions."
Lemieux was forced out of a game last Feb. 14 when chronic back trouble worsened, ending his 46-game scoring streak. He played only once in the Penguins' final 22 games last season, scoring a goal on March 31.
He had disk surgery July 11, then developed a bone infection in the autumn that doctors said was unrelated to the earlier injury.
"I think I looked pretty bad in the first" period, Lemieux said of Saturday night's game. "But in the second and third I felt a lot better and made better plays.
"Especially in the first, I was thinking about being checked, especially from behind, and I didn't want to put myself in that position. But in the second and third period I played and didn't have anything on my mind."
Nordiques forward Paul Gillis dropped Lemieux to the ice in the first period with a solid check, but the two-time NHL scoring champion was on his feet within seconds.
Lemieux assisted on goals by Mark Recchi and Bob Errey early in the second period to give Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead, and on a John Cullen power-play goal in the third period that put the Penguins ahead 5-2 en route to their ninth victory in the last 13 games.
The paid attendance of 13,834 welcomed the Montreal native with loud cheers when he jumped on the ice for his first shift and again after his name was announced on the assists.
He played not quite 20 minutes and said he believes he'll be ready for his customary 35 minutes a game in a few weeks.
Nordiques forward Claude Loiselle, who marked Lemieux, praised his opponent as "a guy who is so dangerous when he's on his game and he wants to play."
Stephane Morin, who had three assists for the Nordiques, also was impressed.
"Even if he isn't skating at cruising speed yet, he did what he wanted to," Morin said. "It's just incredible what he can do on the ice and his coming back is good news for all hockey fans."
Now the rehabilitation is over for Lemieux. Now he must regain his usual form.
"I feel relieved," he said. "It's always good to have one game under your belt."