Washington goalie Don Beaupre had watched the first four games of the NHL Patrick Division semifinals with the New York Islanders. He saw the Capitals take leads and watched as teammate Rick Tabaracci played brilliantly in goal yet was unsuccessful in staving off Islanders rallies.
Monday night, Beaupre was in the net and thought the problem had been solved. The coaches had held team meetings about the late-game collapses that had haunted Washington during the final 10 minutes of each game -- and sent three of them to overtime. The team had talked it out, discussed what had to be done.
"And, then [Monday], it was worse than ever before," Beaupre said. "It was pretty simple. We just quit playing. We didn't do anything. Just stood around and hoped the clock ticked to zero. We didn't forecheck. Sure, the Islanders might have picked it up a step, but for them to pick it up that much, we must have backed up three or four."
Washington had a 5-1 lead, thanks to Al Iafrate's hat trick, with 11:11 left in the third period. Eight minutes later, it was 5-4. Only an open-net goal by Dale Hunter with 7.6 seconds left removed the lump from the Capitals' throats and assured them a 6-4 victory.
Tonight, Beaupre is expected to be in the net again in Game 6 at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., as Washington tries to extend this best-of-seven series to a seventh game at the Capital Centre.
"I'll always go with the guy who's done a good job for me," Murray said, leaving little doubt of his choice. "If a goaltender gets hot in goal and he's winning, I'll stick with him."
Beaupre was hot Monday night. And not just in terms of making big saves. He was yelling directions to his teammates, screaming at them to close down the Islanders attack. When the Islanders tightened the score to 5-4, he smashed his stick over the crossbar.
"You yell, you do what you can," Beaupre said. "But once it starts, it's tough to stop. If that game goes to OT, we have zero chance of winning, I guarantee you, not with what our mental state would have been."
But Washington won Game 5 and now looks for a way to win again. Murray said he planned to hold a rare team film meeting last night so players could see exactly what wasn't being done on defense during those final 10 minutes.
"I think seeing it will have more impact than words," Murray said.
"Our coverage isn't good. Why? I don't have the answer. Again, it's a psychological thing, and I hope we can solve it."
There were stretches during the regular season when the Capitals blew back-to-back two-goal leads in the third period. Part of the problem -- or the solution, depending on point of view -- is that the defense is scoring the bulk of the Capitals' goals. As Beaupre pointed out, when a team has a 4-1 lead one of the last places a goalie wants to see one of his defensemen is right in front of the opposing team's goal.
"That's where Al was with 11 minutes left," said Beaupre, referring to Iafrate. "If you're being conservative and trying to protect a lead, that's not the place to be. But he scored . . . ."
Murray said the forwards have been doing a pretty good job, keeping one man back to cut off the counterattack. But during the closing minutes in games 2, 3, 4 and 5, no one has gotten close enough to the Islanders to prevent a charge at the Capitals net.
When Beaupre was asked what Washington has to do to avoid the heart-pounding finishes, he laughed. "Score 10 goals, I guess," he said.