Caps put on new face, still hold off Jets, 4-3

April 13, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- It should have been billed as "Meet the New Capitals Night."

At least that's the way it seemed. Washington took full advantage of having a playoff spot in hand and defenseman Todd Nelson, called up from Portland just six hours before last night's game, made a lasting impression.

Nelson, 24, scored his first NHL goal and it was a special one.

Not only was it the game-winner in a 4-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets, but in the end, it meant the Caps clinched seventh place in the Eastern Division and assured them of a first-round date with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup playoffs, which begin Sunday.

"I was going golfing and I thought our assistant coach was playing a trick on me, when he called and told me to pack my bags and get on a plane to Washington," said Nelson, who was called up after defenseman Kevin Hatcher strained a thigh muscle in the pre-game skate. "The goal hasn't sunk in yet. None of this has sunk in yet.

"Last night I was at a team party and I woke up a bit foggy. I was going to pay some bills, do my taxes and go golfing."

The bills and golf can wait. The taxes were given to a friend on the way to the airport.

Coach Jim Schoenfeld rested veterans Dale Hunter, Randy Burridge, Dave Poulin and Hatcher. And Joe Juneau went to the sidelines after being slashed in the first period.

But before he went, Juneau made a dazzling play, passing to Michal Pivonka, who connected with Steve Konowalchuk for a 2-0 lead.

Kelly Miller scored on a breakaway 26 seconds later to make it 3-0 with 12:30 to play in the first.

"After I was hit, I went to the bench and I couldn't squeeze [my hand]," said Juneau, his arm in a sling. "But the feeling has come back a little bit. We'll ice it down and see if I can go Thursday."

Schoenfeld said he hopes Hatcher and Juneau are ready to return tomorrow in Buffalo.

"If they can go, I want them to play," he said. "We can't sit everybody and I'd like to be as close to our playoff lineup as possible," he said.

The lineup was not playoff ready against Winnipeg, as rookie center Jason Allison made his NHL debut, and right wing Tim Bergland, acquired from Tampa Bay before the trading deadline, made his home-ice debut.

Allison centered the line of Dimitri Khristich and Peter Bondra, which got Washington's first goal; and Bergland showed he's capable of mixing it up in front of the net.

After taking the 4-0 lead on Nelson's goal, the Capitals and Don Beaupre (27 saves) then held on, to the relief of the USAir Arena crowd of 13,713.

But the Jets did make things interesting in the final period.

With 4:08 gone in the third, Dallas Drake scored to make it 4-2.

And then, with 4:38 to play, Jets defenseman Dean Kennedy put a slap shot that Beaupre never saw in the net from near the boards to make it 4-3.

"It wasn't as traumatic as it might have seemed," said Schoenfeld. "We didn't have our regular guys in there."

It would take more than the Jets' belated comeback to spoil Nelson's night, that's for sure.

"I'm going to call my brother tonight," said Nelson, referring to his younger brother Jeff, who is 21 and leads the Portland Pirates' scoring with 100 points. "I'm going to tell him I'm the first Nelson to score a goal in the NHL."

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