Ref calls off Islanders just in time for Caps

Phil Jackman

April 27, 1993|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- There was no way this NHL playoff series was going to conclude after just five games. Heck, things were just getting interesting between the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders.

At the same time, there was no way the Caps were just going to ride a 5-1 lead built up over the first 50 minutes of the game into the dressing room without the patented stretch run of the Isles.

"Yeah, I guess maybe we panicked a bit at the end when they had a shot at tying it at 5-5," said Capitals defenseman Sylvain Cote. "But all those [late] goals came when they had nothing to lose; they just kept coming."

They amounted to Ray Ferraro, the mighty mite who rammed three goals into the Caps' net in seven minutes and 51 seconds after scoring New York's first goal less than five minutes into the game. Ferraro now has eight goals in the five games and, as Washington captain Kevin Hatcher said, "We might have to watch him a little closer."

As superior as the Caps were while constructing their big lead, they were inferior as the Islanders stormed back almost unopposed before falling, 6-4.

How bad was Washington as the teams straightened out for the run to the wire?

The visitors had pulled to within a goal at 5-4 and had a golden opportunity at a tie when a truly amazing call was made by referee Dan Marouelli inside the last two minutes of the game.

For the uninitiated, anything shy of a compound fracture is usually ignored in the last couple of minutes of a hockey game, especially during the playoffs. But Marouelli sent Tom Fitzgerald off for slashing and the Isles weren't able to mount any kind of serious threat thereafter.

It was a good thing for the Caps because, as the Islanders pressed for the equalizer with a fifth skater and no goalie, it took the Capitals three shots at an open net before Dale Hunter finally connected to put the game away.

Realizing it was about time he stopped complaining about some of his under-achievers and started making some moves, Washington coach Terry Murray changed goalies and sent some of his tough guys out at the very start to let the Islanders know they were about to get bumped around.

"We've been playing pretty well," noticed Cote, "but the way we've been doing things hasn't been effective."

In other words, a simple two-goal lead, which Washington held in the third period of both overtime losses in New York, wasn't enough.

"We had some guys out there who took care of the physical end and gave us a start, and we kept pressing to build up a lead too much for them to overcome," said Cote, who got things rolling with his first goal of the postseason just 75 seconds after the puck was dropped.

The early hitting fueled much emotion and Al Iafrate did the rest for the next two hours. After Ferraro's first goal had squared it at 1-1, the Caps went on a four-goal spree, Pat Elynuik's goal flying in among an Iafrate hat trick.

"All along," said Cote, "Big Al's been telling us his leg [hamstring] was OK, but I had my doubts. You could tell he had all his skills tonight and it's a good thing; we need him scoring."

Until midway in the third period, Washington was breezing, mainly because it was skating four lines and three sets of defensemen.

When Ferraro started peppering goalie Don Beaupre late, however, the Caps were skating two lines and remnants of a third. They were clearly dead tired and listing badly.

The Islanders were coming out of their end at breakneck speed and, as Iafrate said, "We weren't putting any pressure on them down the ice to prevent them from coming 100 miles per hour through the neutral zone. Those guys weren't getting touched."

New York got to within a goal when Islanders coach Al Arbour yanked his goalie with 2:51 remaining and it scored 30 seconds later. Arbour was waiting for the right time to send out a sixth attacker again when Marouelli made "the call."

"Suspicious" is the way Cote described the Fitzgerald infraction.

Arbour said: "I'm very upset at the call at the end, especially after he [the ref] let so much go. Paul Bunyan [Kevin Hatcher] with his double-ax nearly broke Steve Thomas' arm and, up in New York, he nearly broke Benoit Hogue's arm with slashes."

Tomorrow night, the teams go at it in Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum, site of two come-from-behind overtime victories by the Islanders last Thursday and Saturday.

It's another Game 7 for the Caps who, if successful, can force the real thing Friday at home.

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