NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals showed an edge bot in perspective and in poise through the first two games of their Patrick Division semifinal with the New York Rangers, and they head home with the split that every road team seeks.
"This is a smart man's hockey game," assistant captain Kelly Miller said after Friday night's 3-0 victory tied the best-of-seven series at one victory apiece.
"A penalty or a mistake, that's what costs you games," Miller said. "The winning team is the one that avoids mistakes."
New York has made the mistakes and committed the penalties. Two blunders have come from winger Troy Mallette.
First, he questioned the Capitals' courage in print. Then he took four minutes for spearing in the opening minute of Game 2. His penalty gave the Capitals a two-man advantage that they turned into the winning goal.
"You go down and pick up a paper and see what they said about the game," Capitals defenseman Kevin Hatcher said.
"We talked about it," said Miller.
Washington responded to these blunders with smarts. Some came from defenseman Neil Sheehy, who was playing his first game after missing the entire regular season with a broken ankle then a back injury. Sheehy provided a snarling presence to complement the Capitals' checking.
"His role on the hockey club is well-defined," Capitals coach Terry Murray said. "There's no gray area as far as the description of his role. He can play the tough role; he can get involved physically. Or he can lay back and show a lot of poise and control. He's a Harvard graduate. He's a smart guy."
Sheehy's probably not much of a poker player, though. His facial expression gives too much away. When asked if his role included goading the enemy, Sheehy smiled, paused, and laughed. Finally he said: "The coach gives advice and I try to fill the bill." The advice worked in Game 2.
"Our game plan hasn't been any great secret," Murray said. "You've seen what we've done. Particularly in the two games right at the start, there's a lot of poise and discipline there. We just wanted to play under control."
Washington improved its play through the neutral zone, preventing New York from capitalizing on turnovers. The Caps took away the slot, let Don Beaupre see the puck, then cleared rebounds. It was a tough combination.
"He stood on his head for us tonight," Hatcher said, referring to Beaupre.
Beaupre added perspective after Game 1, saying that one game didn't mean much. This time, he added more than perspective; the 35 saves helped, too.
"I think they found it very tough to get into good scoring position," he said. "If they were frustrated at all it was because they couldn't get the puck in front of the net, where you get the real scoring chances. I think it's going to be a real low-scoring, tight series, unless I'm real wrong."
Certainly the scores will be low if both teams spend time on the power play. The Rangers are 0-for-13 with a man advantage and the Capitals 1-for-12. Washington has added a short-handed goal and the Rangers scored a goal shortly after killing a penalty.
After being burned by physical play in Game 2, the Rangers may try to improve their discipline in games 3 and 4.
"We just took some penalties we didn't have to take," New York coach Roger Neilson said.
"We tried to initiate a lot of the physical play and when we did it, it seemed like they were going to come at us, but they turned away and we took some penalties that maybe we shouldn't have," New York winger Kris King said. "We've got to play tough, but we've got to play smart at the same time."
That's exactly what the Caps are trying to do.
"We knew they would try to be physical," left wing Nick Kypreos said. "We want to be smart about it."
Added Murray: "We wanted to show poise, restraint, discipline. You've got to be able to take the punch in the head, or the verbal abuse."
If the Caps keep their poise in Games 3 and 4, the real verbal abuse may come from the Rangers fans -- and it will be directed at their own team all summer long.