Capitals lose Cote for up to 3 weeks

April 19, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Capitals' chances of upsetting the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs suffered a major blow yesterday, when the team learned it had lost veteran defenseman Sylvain Cote for up to three weeks.

Cote, the Capitals' most reliable defenseman, suffered a fractured right orbital bone when he was hit in the face with the butt end of a stick during the second period Sunday, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

At first, it appeared he was hit by Peter Taglianetti, but a replay showed it was Penguins left wing Kevin Stevens who delivered the punch to Cote's face.

In Game 2 here tonight, rookie defensemen John Slaney and Todd Nelson and veteran Shawn Anderson will play in Cote's absence.

"He's been our MVP all year," coach Jim Schoenfeld said of Cote, who produced a plus-30 rating, 16 goals and a career-high 35 assists. "He's great on defense and great on offense, and we're going to miss him. But that's the nature of hockey. It's a rallying point, not something we can't overcome."

The Capitals did overcome Cote's absence for the better part of two periods Sunday to win, 5-3.

But it took an extraordinary effort from Kevin Hatcher, who clocked more than 36 minutes of ice time, and a stepped-up performance from Slaney, who stood his ground when he had to.

"I got a lot of playing time Sunday, and it really helped my confidence," Slaney said. "I know the main thing is just to stay focused. You can't be in outer space and expect to survive out there. You've got to be right on top of your game, and I was excited about the way I played."

Yesterday, Cote was to return to Washington to see the team eye specialist to determine if surgery may be necessary, and Capitals management was reviewing film of the incident. They ++ also were searching for NHL supervisor of officials Matt Pavelich to determine whether to send the tape to the league for action.

"I'm trying real hard not to judge the incident for them," said Capitals general manager David Poile. "Again, all we're looking for is a level playing field in all situations. In every directive we've ever received from the league, it has said the player is ultimately responsible for his stick.

"We play in a game where we penalize clear accidental stick fouls because the player is responsible. In this case, we've lost a player, possibly our best player, for the rest of the series because he was hit in the face with a stick. Based on the incident, whether it was careless or accidental, as far as my interpretation of the rules, there is no gray area in that."

But the films do not show the incident clearly, and that seemed to be a relief to Pittsburgh coach Ed Johnston.

"I don't fear anything," he said. "We've looked at the tape, and there's nothing there. Stevens' stick was low. Cote was hit with a glove."

Johnston did not try to explain how the orbital bone could be fractured by a glove.

"Cote had a heck of a year for them," Johnston said. "There's no question they'll miss him."

Cote still had double vision yesterday morning. But he said that was an improvement over the night before.

"Immediately after the hit, when I was down on the ice, I looked up and saw four Stan Wongs," Cote said, referring to the Capitals' head trainer who ran onto the ice to help him. "It was pretty scary. Now that it's just two, it's a lot better."

At this point, all Cote knows is that he will not be allowed to skate or do anything strenuous for the next 10 days. But it could be longer if surgery is necessary to correct his vision and fill in an air pocket under his eye that developed from the fracture.

But Cote was upbeat and confident yesterday. He said he doesn't believe his season is over.

"I didn't get too much sleep [Sunday night], because I was thinking all the thoughts -- that I'd worked hard for 400-plus days in a row to get to this point, that you'd played all those games, just to get here, and now you're hurt and can't play," he said. "But I think we can beat Pittsburgh.

"Kevin and Calle [Johansson] will have to carry most of the load, and Nelson and Slaney will have to play up their expectations. Jimmy Johnson [knee ligaments] isn't too far from being ready, and Shawn is ready. They'll do fine, and then we'll see. I could be back for the next round."

CAPITALS TONIGHT

Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Site: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh

Time: 7:38

TV/Radio: Channel 20/WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: This is Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which the Capitals lead, 1-0, after Sunday's 5-3 victory. Pittsburgh G Tom Barrasso and Washington G Don Beaupre are likely to start again. The Caps would like to play tighter in the neutral zone. The Penguins would like to do better putting their chances away and picking up loose pucks. The Caps report D Sylvain Cote (fractured right orbital bone) and D Jim Johnson (knee ligaments) are out. Pittsburgh reports D Greg Hawgood (bruised hand) is day-to-day.

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