PITTSBURGH -- In the rotation of playoff heroes for the Washington Capitals, last night was defenseman Al Iafrate's turn.
Iafrate combined key defensive plays with one of the biggest goals of his career, the game-winner at 15 minutes, 31 of the third period. The goal helped the Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins before a sellout crowd of 16,164 at the Civic Arena and a 1-0 lead in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs series.
"Every game it's been a different guy," Iafrate said. That's the way it should be. . . . Our team plays that way. We don't have the firepower they [the Penguins] do."
The winning goal was scored when, from the left side of the Penguins' net, Dimitri Khristich passed to Iafrate, who was in the right circle. Iafrate then walked past one defender and beat Penguins goalie Frank Pietrangelo on the lower right side of the net.
Iafrate said he did not to expect to get such a good scoring opportunity on the play. "I just saw him [Pietrangelo] start to go down," Iafrate said. "He just missed the puck and it went in the net."
As with the winning goal, the Capitals won by controlling the Penguins' potent offense, which finished the regular season second in the league with 342 goals. Iafrate was a large part of that success, and his biggest play came in the last minute of the second period.
With the Capitals trailing 2-1, Mario Lemieux picked up a long pass by the Capitals' blue line and began to streak down the left side, but Iafrate was able to get his stick on the puck at the last moment to foil Lemieux's breakaway.
"I had the jump on him," Iafrate said. I was able to angle him off and just got a piece of the puck. It was a big play."
The Capitals held the Penguins to 26 shots on goal, which combined with a strong performance by goaltender Don Beaupre to stop the Penguins.
"Donnie Beaupre made some tremendous stops," said Capitals Coach Terry Murray. Murray also was pleased with the conservative style of play throughout much of the game, which favored the lower-scoring Capitals. "We had some real good quality checks. We had very good intensity. . . . I think the tempo was pretty good."
For most of the first period, the tempo was close to a crawl. It was not until 17:45 that the Penguins opened the scoring, by taking advantage of a high-sticking penalty on Mike Lalor 36 seconds earlier.
Defenseman Larry Murphy received a puck that slid out of a tie-up along the boards between Mike Ridley and the Penguins' Mark Recchi and scored from the top of the right circle. His shot passed between the legs of Rod Langway and beat goalie Don Beaupre on his stick side.
Both teams came out more aggressively in the second period. In the opening minutes, the Capitals kept the puck in the Penguins' end for more than a minute but could not score. After the Penguins failed to convert on a power play chance, the Capitals made good on their own man advantage.
From the right point, Calle Johansson one-timed a Kevin Hatcher pass by Pietrangelo at 6:07. A hooking penalty by Ulf Samuelsson on Iafrate as he charged toward the Penguin net set up the power play.
It was the first goal Pietrangelo had given up since the third period of Game 6 against New Jersey, 112 minutes and 19 seconds earlier.
But the Penguins took back the lead seven minutes later on a controversial power-play goal by Mario Lemieux from the bottom of the left circle. The red light did not go on, but referee Dan Marouelli ruled the shot a goal, apparently believing crossed into the net and hit off the back of the post before bouncing back out. A check of the replay seemed to confirm the ruling.
The goal was set up by a pass from left wing Phil Bourque, who was playing the point on the power play in place of defenseman Paul Coffey. Coffey left the ice for several minutes after being hit in the right side of the face on a shot by Khristich shot. Coffey missed two games in the Devils series with a scratched left cornea.
The Capitals evened the score at 2 on the second of the Hatcher-Johansson tandem goals. In a virtual mirror image of the Capitals. first goal, Hatcher scored on a slap shot from the left point after receiving a pass from Johansson.