Caps come up short to Bruins

March 28, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- If the Washington Capitals plan to avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, no one would guess it from yesterday's performance against the Boston Bruins.

The Capitals gave up three short-handed goals and lost to the Bruins, 6-4.

It seems that the Caps are too comfortable -- and how that is possible may be one of the great mysteries in the NHL.

Not even coach Jim Schoenfeld, hockey's Mr. Positive, could find an answer yesterday.

"Steve Konowalchuk and Dave Poulin had big games," said Schoenfeld. "But we had some players who weren't ready to play. And I can't imagine why. . . . We aren't going to do it with five or six guys. Unless all 20 are pulling in the same direction, we don't have enough strength to get the job done. And today we didn't. With what's at stake, it's beyond me why we wouldn't."

The Capitals (34-32-9) are tied with the expansion Florida Panthers for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia Flyers are four points behind. The New York Islanders, who are here tomorrow night, are six points behind.

Last week, Capitals management made a huge trade, sending All-Star defenseman Al Iafrate to Boston for center Joe Juneau, a man who can create offense for others as well as put the puck in the net.

Yesterday, on one possession, Juneau beat two Boston defensemen up the ice, but no teammate was ready to take a pass.

In the third period, Juneau tried three times to set up a teammate, and when the fourth opportunity presented itself, he took the shot from the top of the right circle to pull the Caps within 3-2.

The arrival of Juneau said Washington is serious about going after the Stanley Cup.

But yesterday, in a virtual tie with Florida, playing at home before a sellout crowd, the Capitals were so frivolous that they killed their momentum in their offensive zone with silly penalties.

And when they had the power-play advantage, they consistently gave up two-on-one breakaways for a team-record-tying three short-handed goals: two to Bryan Smolinski, a player in his first full NHL season who had never scored short-handed, and another to veteran scorer Adam Oates.

"Three short-handed goals, that's so rare," said Oates. "It has to demoralize them. The power play is your bread and butter. You have to score on the power play."

It was so bad that when the Capitals were awarded a power play in the third period, one group of fans began chanting, "Decline the penalty! Decline the penalty!"

When Caps left wing Dimitri Khristich was called for a holding penalty 43 seconds later to make it four-on-four, it seemed that nearly everyone in the building thought it was a smart play.

Poulin, within one of his 200th goal since Dec. 26, scored it with 5:07 gone in the third to tie the game at 4.

"It was good to get it out of the way," said the former Bruin. "But it would have been sweeter if the outcome of the game had been different."

Iafrate scored on a slap shot from the blue line with 8:41 to play to make it 5-4. Defenseman Glen Wesley scored into an open net with 2.2 seconds left.

"We gave up three short-handed goals, and that sets you back," said defenseman Sylvain Cote, who needed three stitches to close a first-period cut and returned to score Washington's first goal 1:08 into the second period. "But we're paid to create our own emotion. . . . We've got to understand that winning is what matters. One short-handed goal, you live with. Three. You can't live with three."

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