Capitals return to their isle of ineptitude

April 06, 1994|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals were up, 2-zip, early in the third period last night, and the game looked to be over. In 28 NHL games in which the team was leading after two periods this season, not once had it lost, going 24-0-4.

Later, their lead sliced to a goal at 3-2, the situation still appeared rosy for the Caps as there was less than a minute remaining.

So, what did you expect? It's April, isn't it? And the opposition was the New York Islanders, and they got this guy named Ray Ferraro, see.

Anyway, the Caps ended up losing in overtime, 4-3, the reversal being of sufficient magnitude to cause coach Jim Schoenfeld to crawl into a shell with tape firmly affixed over his mouth afterward. The thing is, poor Jim isn't completely aware of what goes on with his team once March is done. Heck, he's only been aboard since the end of January.

Recall, last year, the Capitals and Islanders squared off in the opening round of the playoffs, and half of the six games went into overtime, the lads from Long Island winning all of them before moving on to the second round. Ferraro got the winning goal in two of them, assisted on the winner in the third.

He was nearly as cantankerous last night, tying the contest with his 19th goal with just 43 seconds remaining in regulation, then setting up Benoit Hogue with the winner 3:34 into OT.

"Kinda desperate" was the way New York coach Al Arbour described his team's situation coming in, the Islanders two spots removed from the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Imagine what he was thinking late, looking up at the scoreboard and seeing a big zero behind his club's name.

"The players know," he said, "they know our margin for error is nil."

Funny how a goal here and a goal there can take a seemingly impossible situation and get a locker room full of grown men acting as if they had just won the Irish Sweepstakes.

"Fits and starts, that's pretty much the way we played all night. Nothing sustained," Arbour said. "Once we got the intensity up after the first period, we were OK."

Tallies by Hogue and Pierre Turgeon, both of which could be described as semi-soft against Washington goalie Don Beaupre, negated earlier goals by Randy Burridge and Kelly Miller. These heroics appeared for naught, though, when Michal Pivonka soloed in and beat Jamie McLennan after jumping on a loose puck in the neutral zone.

Schoenfeld had to be feeling pretty good in his 200th game as an NHL coach when the Caps posed a couple of mild threats in the offensive zone and seemed to be handling anything the Islanders attempted well outside their blue line.

Somewhere in the commotion, though, Ferraro slipped into a phone booth, donned his Superman suit and he was off. First, he grabbed a long rebound to Beaupre's right, skated behind the goal and jammed it in the goal in wrap-around fashion.

Adding to the misery for Washington was the loss of defenseman Jim Johnson for six weeks with a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

The two points, described as "the ugliest and the prettiest" at the same time by Arbour, boosted the Islanders' total to 77 and into ninth place in the conference, one ahead of Philadelphia's 76. Eighth-place Florida played an overtime tie in Quebec and nudged ahead to 79 points.

It might be fair to ask why anyone would care if a team that played less than .500 hockey all season makes it to the final playoff spot; it would be pitted against the conference's top team and probably get blown out anyway.

Not necessarily. It seems at least one team unexpectedly goes berserk every year during Stanley Cup play. These Islanders, for instance, just squeezed into the playoffs last spring and, after beating the Caps, came from behind and eliminated the two-time defending Cup champ and prohibitive favorite Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

The Caps, not assured of postseason participation yet, play in Ottawa tonight. The Senators carry a record of 13-56-9. A loss there, and Jim Schoenfeld will be an expert on Washington's April hex.

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