Caps' playoff horizon cloudy at best

April 11, 1994|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- It probably couldn't have worked out better for the Washington Capitals, playing the sorry Ottawa Senators (14-58-9) and still not assured of a playoff spot with just two games remaining in the regular season.

If coach Jim Schoenfeld has said it once, he has said it probably a thousand times to his gang: "Everyone on this team has to contribute in any way he can.

"We can't have players going around saying, 'I'm a checker, I don't have to score.' Or other guys saying, 'I'm a scorer, I don't have to check.' "

For more than a decade, now that making it to the Stanley Cup playoffs has become a rite of spring for the Caps, some people have gotten the idea that this is a juggernaut, despite often shoddy performances in postseason play.

With its 8-4 victory over Ottawa Saturday night, however, Washington is only a couple of games better than a break-even team at 37-35-10 and still needs a point in its last two games to make the playoffs for the 12th straight year. The Caps are at home tomorrow night (7:40) to Winnipeg, then wrap up the 84-game season at Buffalo Thursday.

It had to do Schoenfeld's heart good to see the manner in which the Caps prevailed. Talk about everybody chipping in and doing his part.

For openers, Todd Krieger had a hat trick, the three goals matching his output over the last 32 games. Kelly Miller, the expert defensive forward, had a pair. Craig Beruba stopped throwing left jabs and right crosses long enough to score.

Berube's goal only tied the score at 1 late in the first period and served as a preliminary to a action-packed fight between he and Dennis Vial, but according to the coach, it was the whole show.

"Chief showed hunger and determination," said Schoenfeld. "In fact, the other guys on his line did, too, Dave Poulin and Keith Jones. Not only did they show the Ottawa players out there, they showed the guys on our bench and still had enough to get a goal at the end of the shift."

After that, it was relatively easy, the Caps scoring four times in less than four minutes as Ottawa goalie Darrin Madeley (3-19-5) looked as if he was on loan from a peewee league team.

After losing to the Senators earlier in the week and blowing a couple of leads and the game their last time at home against the Islanders, the team appeared as if it should be excused from the playoffs if only to preserve the coach's sanity.

Slowly but surely, though, Schoenfeld is learning that just about the time you figure you have a line on these guys, they'll do something shocking.

For instance, losers of three straight, embarrassed and suddenly in a battle to remain as one of the top eight teams in the conference, the Caps came out as if this was a game in late November, ho-hum.

"We didn't start with a flurry of emotion," said Schoenfeld, who cringed as the visitors scored a short-handed goal inside the first two minutes. This used to be a team at or near the top in its ability to kill penalties. Now it's lower middle of the pack, 15th of 26 teams.

"We needed everybody to do their part and then some," said the coach, and that included Ottawa, which was able to pressure for only 19 shots against Caps goalie Rick Tabaracci, just back from a long stint on the sidelines with a bad knee.

In keeping with his "the load has to be shared" theme, Schoenfeld indicated that he probably won't be going with one goalie when the playoffs commence Sunday.

It's no doubt written on the Cup itself that every team starts out with the intention of going with one guy in net, "a hot goalie," but the coach isn't convinced. He can't feel good about Rick Tabaracci being out so long and just getting back and Don Beaupre being inconsistent almost to the point of being shell-shocked the past few weeks.

"We're not going to be carried by one guy," said Schoenfeld, and observers are thinking maybe even a half-dozen or more won't do.

Never within memory have the Capitals faced the postseason with so many questions and with a confident feeling so distant. Of course, they've started other quests for the Cup with reasons for high hope and ended up putting the equipment away in little more than a week's time.

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