Penguins' Pechurski thrust into NHL dream in borrowed pads

By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - On Friday, Tri-City Americans netminder Alexander Pechurski was playing in front of 4,009 fans in a junior ice hockey game in Kennewick, Washington.

Just 24 hours later, the 19-year-old Russian found himself wearing borrowed pads and tending goal for the injury-hit Pittsburgh Penguins as the Stanley Cup champions wrapped up their Canadian west coast swing against the Vancouver Canucks.

With top netminder Marc-Andre Fleury and backup Brent Johnson sidelined with injuries, the Pens called up Pechurski and John Curry from their American Hockey League affiliate.

Curry was handed the start but was pulled from the game early in the second period after surrendering five goals on 14 shots. Pechurski, who signed a one-day amateur tryout contract just before the opening face-off, was thrust into the action with almost 19,000 fans watching his every move.

The 150th overall pick by the Penguins in the 2008 draft held his own, stopping 12 of 13 shots as Pittsburgh slumped to a 6-2 defeat. His performance was one of the few bright spots for the Pens and earned him high praise from team captain Sidney Crosby.

"He showed a lot of poise, that's not an easy situation to go into," Crosby told reporters. "He showed a lot of guts coming in like that and playing the way he did.

"He passed the test big time."

After the game, the beaming 19-year-old, who had only arrived in North America from Russia three weeks ago, basked in the spotlight as he packed his bags to return to the Western Hockey League's Americans.

"I was really surprised, at the same time I was happy I had the chance to play," said Pechurski, who enlisted the help of team mate Sergei Gonchar as interpreter.

"It is a dream coming true to play in the NHL. It was tough because I finished the game last night then I was traveling and didn't sleep much. But everyone was helping me and supporting me."

The Penguins opened the scoring on a goal from Evgeni Malkin before the Canucks scored five in a row to take a 5-1 lead.

Henrik Sedin, the NHL's leading scorer, pulled Vancouver level and Alex Burrows followed with a short-handed effort to put Vancouver up 2-1 at the first intermission.

The Canucks blasted three past Curry in the first four minutes of the second -- Mikael Samuelsson, Jannik Hansen and Willie Mitchell all finding the back of net.

Matt Cooke pulled one back for Pittsburgh while Ryan Kesler was the only Canuck to beat Pechurski.

"He was thrown into the fire, from getting the call last night to wearing Fleury's pads, it's a lot to ask of a young kid but he played fantastic," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma told reporters.

"He stood in there, was confident and did a good job for us."

(Editing by Peter Rutherford)