Capitals ready to check out physical game Murray: Toughness needed vs. Islanders

April 24, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

UNIONDALE, N.Y. -- Soft is not a word often associated with NHL teams. Checking, hitting, clutching, grabbing and more hitting. That's the name of the game in NHL postseason play.

But if the shoe fits?

"Feather dusters," Capitals coach Terry Murray said yesterday. "Our guys played as if they were using feather dusters instead of sticks."

Washington's lack of sound, physical defense cost it Game 3 of its Patrick Division semifinal series with the New York Islanders on Thursday night.

If the Capitals don't get tough fast, it could cost them the series. They are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series, after their 4-3 overtime loss.

Game 4 tonight finds Washington still searching for production from its top goal-scorers, Michal Pivonka and Peter Bondra. Murray says he will put them on separate lines tonight if they do not produce by the end of the first period.

But just as important, the Caps are looking for a consistently physical defense.

"It's grit and determination that matters now," said Murray. "I'm not talking about the 1974 Philadelphia Flyers. I'm talking about finishing your checks, angling so your guy runs out of room eventually.

"I'm talking about getting a body on somebody, not stick checking. You're not going to come in here and make a soft little stick check and win the individual gritty battles that count."

The Capitals do expect more of themselves, although defenseman Sylvain Cote said for Washington to win this series it's going to have to venture into almost uncharted territory.

"Have you seen us hit anyone all year?" Cote asked. "We did it once, against Vancouver, and got a tie.

"The thing is, we're not used to it and we've got to put them against the wall. It's the only way to win in the playoffs. It's playoff hockey.

"We can do it," added Cote, who has a black eye and several cuts on his face from this series. "I'm our smallest defenseman. If I can do it, we all can, and I try to make a hit every chance I get. There's just something about banging a guy against the boards and hearing that little sound that tells you he's in pain that's inspiring."

A lot has been written about the Capitals' defensemen. But not about their toughness.

They've set NHL records for most points (263) by a defensive unit and having three defensemen -- Kevin Hatcher, Al Iafrate and Cote -- with 20 or more goals.

But the defensemen have been stymied in this series offensively and, when they have been asked to play the traditional hard-checking style that wins playoff games, they've been lacking there, too.

For example, the Capitals had a one-goal lead with 42 seconds left in regulation Thursday, but the Islanders fired up a perfectly executed play that tied the game on Pierre Turgeon's goal and forced overtime.

"It was just a really bad play," said Calle Johansson. "Someone should have gotten on [Vladimir] Malakhov at the start and not let him fire the puck in. Then the puck goes around and maybe I should have run to stop Benoit Hogue along the boards there. And someone should have picked up [Steve] Thomas, because he was the one who got the puck and passed it to Turgeon, and someone should have had Turgeon."

What it adds up to now is that the Capitals need a victory. Murray says his team has to leave tonight with a 2-2 tie in the series.

"I'm very worried about the Islanders getting on a roll, because they've got a lot of reasons to get on one," he said. "It's very important that they don't see any doubt on our part. We've got to believe we can do it or we're dead."

No one denies playing tougher defense would be easier if the offense was going better. "Look at Pittsburgh," said Johansson. "They score six goals every game, they don't have to worry or press on defense."

But no one is blaming the offense, either.

"Everyone has to do his part," said Iafrate. "I'm not going to sit here and say our forwards don't score enough. It's a team game."

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