PITTSBURGH -- How do you stop one of the hottest teams in the NHL?
Insert one hot goaltender, as in Don Beaupre of the Washington Capitals.
Beaupre stopped 31 of 33 shots to lead the Capitals to a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins before a sellout crowd of 16,164 at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena last night.
The victory strengthened Washington's hold on first place in the Patrick Division. Washington is 22-10-0, good for 44 points and a five-point lead over the second-place New York Rangers and an eight-point lead over third-place Pittsburgh.
It also broke Pittsburgh's seven game (6-0-1) unbeaten streak against Patrick Division opponents. The Penguins had won eight of 11 overall entering the game.
Beaupre beat the Penguins for the third straight time this season, as the Caps continued to reverse their fortunes against Pittsburgh. Washington has outscored Pittsburgh by 21-4 this season and is on the verge of winning the season series from Pittsburgh for the first time since 1985-86.
"I really don't know what the difference is," Capitals coach Terry Murray said. "We've been scoring more, and Donnie [Beaupre] has been playing very well for us."
The key to the turnaround has been Beaupre. His best save last night? Pick any one of a dozen or so, but the one that set the tone for the game came early.
Pittsburgh left wing Kevin Stevens, who entered the game tied with teammate Mario Lemieux for the league scoring lead, ripped a shot from the slot just 34 seconds into the game, but Beaupre reached high to snag the puck with his glove.
"I think that really gave the team a boost," Beaupre said. "We were coming off a tough loss Friday night [5-3 to the Rangers], so it was good for the guys to know their goalie was ready to play."
The rest of the Caps were ready as well.
Washington took a 1-0 lead just over two minutes later. Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso was penalized for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass at 1:05, and the Caps took advantage. Sylvain Cote scored his sixth goal of the season on a slap shot from the right point at 2:52, converting a pass from Al Iafrate. Mike Ridley also drew an assist on the play.
Beaupre kept the Caps in front with an outstanding save on Mark Recchi on a Pittsburgh power play just over two minutes later. Recchi's shot actually got behind Beaupre, but slid along the goal line and stayed out of the net.
Lemieux then made a great move around the Capital defense at 8:15, but Beaupre sprawled to stop his low shot.
The Caps turned that play around almost immediately, with a little luck. Joe Mullen attempted to clear the puck out of the Penguins zone, but it hit a broken stick on the ice and deflected to Randy Burridge, who fed Dino Ciccarelli in the slot. Ciccarelli's slap shot whizzed by Barrasso for his 17th of the season, and the Caps led 2-0 at 9:26.
"We feel pretty good here," Ciccarelli said. "We did not play very well [Friday night], so we wanted to get off to a good start. They were coming off a tough game too, so we thought we might catch them a little flat."
Kelly Miller made it 3-0 at 13:14, taking a John Druce pass and walking around the defense. His shot beat a sprawling Barrasso between the legs.
Washington dominated special teams play, converting three of four power plays. Pittsburgh was 0 for 7 with the man advantage.