"It was always a slightly intimidating feeling to play against him," says Barrasso. "You know that he's more aware of his options than 99.9 percent of the people in the game. He takes away your ability to anticipate the play because of the way he can look in one direction and snap off a shot or a pass in another direction."
Peter Sidorkiewicz of the Ottawa Senators was ripped for two goals by Lemieux in a 7-2 loss on Oct. 27. He considers himself lucky that it wasn't worse. "There's no book on Mario," Sidorkiewicz says. "It's not like he has a favorite thing that he does over and over. Every time it's a different adventure. And you know that if he does the things that he wants to do, the puck's going to go in the net. He's the most dangerous man I've ever faced."
"On the power play he's even more dangerous," says the New Jersey Devils' Craig Billington, who watched helplessly as Lemieux scored just such a goal in a 4-3 loss to the Penguins on Oct. 24. "Then they have time to set up a play. He'll either bury it, like he did to mc, or pass it at the last split second to a guy who'll have an open net."
Opposing teams even have to be on the defensive during their own power plays when Lemieux is on the ice. I He's proficient at sneaking behind attackers and snagging the puck for a shorthanded breakaway. When that happens, as Sidorkiewicz says, "you just have to hope his back goes out or pray that the puck starts bouncing or that he makes a mistake—and that doesn't happen very often."
Goalies often contend that players come charging at them so fast, they hardly have time to figure out who's who. But when it's Lemieux, they know all too well. "As soon as he gets the puck," says Burke, "you think to yourself, It's him, he's got it, and he's coming to get ya."
"I always see him when he's on the ice," says Roussel. "You know it's him because of the way he skates and the special charisma he has. And you definitely know it's him when he gets close. The closer he gets, the stronger he becomes. Some goalies get really nervous."
Lemieux says he's not aware of his victims' fear. "I don't look at their eyes," he says. "I look at where I have to put the puck—in the net."
That's even scarier.
"You know you can't stop him," says Cheveldae. "You just hope to contain him. He'll do anything to keep you off balance. And you know what? It works."
None of the goalies has confessed that Lemieux haunts his dreams. The nightmare, they all insist, begins only when they're awake.