Caps clinch but can't relax yet

April 12, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals know they're in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 12th consecutive year, but there was no dancing in the locker room at USAir Arena yesterday.

Instead, as the Capitals went out to practice for tonight's game against the Winnipeg Jets there was a quiet determination to go on from here.

"It feels pretty good," said defenseman Calle Johansson. "But we've seen when we let down, we're not that good a team. We've still got to be on our toes. We've got two games remaining and if we want to finish as high as we can, we have to win those games."

The Capitals clinched a playoff berth when the Florida Panthers tied the New Jersey Devils, 2-2, Sunday night. Now the Capitals must fend off the Panthers and New York Islanders for seventh place in the Eastern Conference.

The Panther and Islanders are battling for the last playoff berth, but both still have a chance to finish as high as seventh.

"It's good to be in," said Joe Juneau, the former Boston Bruin. "It relieves the pressure, but at the same time, you can't let up. Last year with Boston, we dominated much of the season, but then we didn't have anything to play for the last four games. Then there were the playoffs, and we just got blown away. Sometimes it's good to have something left to work for."

That seemed to be the overriding feeling yesterday. Even coach Jim Schoenfeld, usually an optimist, described the situation as "funny."

"You'd think you'd feel nothing but relief," he said. "But it's a little disappointing, because it's pretty exhilarating to win that last game to make it. I thought we were going to do it anyway.

"I thought it would be a real load off our shoulders and instead it was a bit of a letdown, which is ridiculous, isn't it? We should be happy we're in."

Being in allows the Capitals to rest some of their veterans and give players such as newly signed rookie Jason Allison and newcomer Tim Bergland some playing time. But yesterday, Schoenfeld was wrestling with that decision.

The candidates for rest appeared to be Dale Hunter, Randy Burridge, Kelly Miller and Dave Poulin, but Schoenfeld committed to nothing, including who would start in goal.

"There is a fine line between resting guys and being playoff-ready," he said. "The No. 1 concern is having the guys we're going to go into the playoffs with ready and it takes precedence over the No. 2 concern of taking a look at some other people."

CAPITALS TONIGHT

Opponent: Winnipeg Jets

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7:30

TV/Radio: HTS/WMAL (630 AM)

Tickets: 2,300 available

Outlook: These teams last met in the season opener. Winnipeg won, 6-4, and had great expectations. Instead, the Jets (24-49-9) are finishing one of their worst seasons, and the Capitals (37-35-10), who have clinched a playoff spot, are trying to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference. For the Jets, C Mike Eagles (bruised kidneys), C Alexei Zhamnov (back spasms), C Randy Gilhen (dislocated shoulder), D Teppo Numminen (dislocated thumb) and RW Teemu Selanne (severed Achilles' tendon) are out. Capitals D Jim Johnson (knee) is out. The club is recalling C Byron Dafoe from Portland to back up Don Beaupre and Rick Tabaracci.

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