1/25/97 -- 1:47 AM


CANONSBURG, Pa. (AP) - Mario Lemieux didn't like his last view of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sidelined with a bruised back, Lemieux watched from a luxury box in Civic Arena as the Penguins lost to the defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche 4-3 in overtime on Thursday night.

Lemieux watched his teammates spot Colorado a 3-0 before rallying.

``It's tough to watch from up there,'' Lemieux said Friday. ``It was especially tough in the third period when the team got going. You're sitting up there helpless, but that's what happens when you're injured.''

Because of therapy and some rest, though, Lemieux is expected to play in the Penguins home game today against the New York Rangers.

Lemieux, who injured his back in Tuesday's game against Calgary, blamed his pain on the way he fell.

``I probably bruised it pretty good. The same thing happened last year against Hartford, and I missed a couple of days,'' he said. ``But it came around after that.''

With help from massage therapist Tom Plasko, Lemieux's back has recovered once more. He returned to practice Friday afternoon and said he would skate against the Rangers.

``I felt pretty good,'' Lemieux said. ``It's still a little bit sore from the bruise, but I was able to skate freely. ... I'll see how I feel after the game and decide then if I'll go to (Sunday) Montreal. If not, then I'll just get ready for next week's games.''

Pittsburgh went on a tear for 25 games after Lemieux united with Ron Francis and Jaromir Jagr. And Jagr is looking forward to getting the trio back together.

``I got used to playing with him now, and I changed my style for that,'' Jagr said. ``I kind of changed myself for 30 games or so, and it's tough to come back and play differently. You're not going to find someone like him to play with. No one can play like Mario, and I'm happy to play with him. He said that he's better, so we'll see.''

Penguins coach Eddie Johnston is anxious to have Lemieux and Jagr, the NHL's top-scoring duo, together again.

``It makes the other clubs make some adjustments,'' Johnston said.

The Rangers have won the first two games between the clubs this season, outscoring the Penguins 16-4. But Johnston believes a revitalized Lemieux, together with other players the team obtained in three trades since then, could make this meeting different.

``I thought we were embarrassed by them ... embarrassed and disappointed because we played four or five real good games prior to that,'' Johnston said.

``Since then, we've had a complete changeover in our personnel and more stability. We're playing much better as a team.''

Jagr believes the Penguins can get back on track after Colorado ended their 14-game unbeaten streak. Lemieux agreed, adding that Saturday's matchup will give the Penguins a better idea of where they stand against one of the league's top teams.

Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.