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Rookie goaltender shuts down Leafs

By Joe Starkey

Penguins goaltender Jean-Sebastien Aubin outplayed the man he once idolized.

Aubin made 26 saves - many of them acrobatic - to lead the Penguins past the Toronto Maple Leafs, 5-2, Friday night at Mellon Arena. The Penguins evened their record at 18-18-3 going into tonight's game at Philadelphia. They also gave head coach Herb Brooks his 200th career victory (he's 200-202-61).

It's not often that Maple Leafs goaltender Curtis Joseph is upstaged. Aubin knows that as well as anyone. He used to study Joseph's style.

"I really liked him when I was younger," Aubin said. "He was playing for St. Louis, against Toronto, and he had like 70 saves in the playoffs. I'll always remember that, but now I'm playing against him. You never expect to play in the NHL when you're 12 years old.

"Now, I'm just entering my time, so it's great."

Maybe it's time to start talking about Aubin as a serious Calder Trophy candidate (Rookie of the Year). In his past 17 appearances, he has allowed more than three goals only once. He has allowed two or less 12 times.

Aubin also has shown the ability to bounce back from adversity. He allowed a soft game-winner to New Jersey's Randy McKay on Wednesday. It didn't affect him last night.

"If you look at every game on TV, great goalies give up bad goals, so why shouldn't I give up bad goals?" Aubin said. "It just happened like that. You don't have to put yourself down because you gave up a bad goal. I know I can do the job. That's the big thing. If you know that, you just go and play.

"That's what I do every game."

His coach and teammates appreciate it. Aubin stopped all 12 Toronto shots in the second period, allowing the Penguins to escape with a 2-1 lead.

"He kept us in the game," defenseman Darius Kasparaitis said.

"He had a lot of poise, and he came up with a couple of big saves in the second period when we were scrambling," Brooks said.

Fellow rookie Michal Rozsival had a goal and an assist, while Jaromir Jagr and German Titov had two assists apiece to lead the Penguins. Kasparaitis, Alexei Kovalev (short-handed), Jan Hrdina and Martin Straka (empty net) scored the other goals.

With the issue still in doubt - the Penguins were leading 4-2 midway through the third period - Aubin made two Joseph-like saves within 38 seconds.

He dived to make an arm stop on Sergei Berezin and slid across his crease without a stick to stop Jonas Hoglund's backhander toward a wide-open net.

Kovalev broke a 1-1 tie with a short-handed goal at 17:59 of the second period. It was just the Penguins' second short-handed goal of the season.

The teams combined for three goals in the first 5 minutes, 40 seconds of the third period. After Rozsival scored on a long wrist shot through a screen to make it 3-1, Leafs defenseman Garry Valk answered with a long shot of his own at 3:51. Hrdina then took a ricochet off the lively end boards and slipped one past an out-of-position Joseph to make it 4-2 at 5:41.

The sellout crowd of 17,125 - the Penguins' third sellout in four games - hadn't settled into their seats when the excitement started.

About 20 minutes before the opening faceoff, Penguins winger Matthew Barnaby took exception to Leafs defenseman Bryan Berard firing a shot at the Penguins' vacant net. The two exchanged shoves near the entrance to the Leafs dressing room.

"It kind of got the fans going," Barnaby said.

But not nearly as much as what happened 1:37 into the game, when Kasparaitis continued his offensive revival. Kasparaitis, who'd missed the previous two games with concussion-like symptoms, took a drop pass from Robert Lang at the top of the right circle and snapped a low shot past Joseph for his third goal of the season.

"I remember our meeting today - `We've got to shoot,' we said - I just shot it," Kasparaitis said. "I didn't even know it went in."

Kasparaitis' three goals have come in the past seven games, leaving him just one short of his career-high for a season. He had four goals in 81 games during the 1997-98 season. Toronto tied it 1-1 at 11:45 of the first when Hoglund took a pass in the slot and one-timed a shot past Aubin, who was making his fifth consecutive start. Hoglund's goal occurred seconds after Joseph made a leaping save on Jagr's backhander in front.

Joseph topped that one at 2:41 of the second period when he did the splits and threw out his glove to stop Kovalev's one-timer. That save, no doubt, made all of the highlight reels last night.

But Aubin made the bigger impression: He left smiling. Joseph left by smashing his stick on the ice, breaking it in two. He was angry at the officials for not calling goaltender interference on Barnaby in the second period.

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