LANDOVER -- For most of the regular season, the Washington Capitals didn't play very good defense, but these are the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and the Pittsburgh Penguins are learning two lessons.
Lesson one, as stated by Pittsburgh goalie Tom Barrasso:
"Any team can play good defense in the playoffs. All it takes is commitment."
Lesson two, as stated by Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld:
"Any defense in the NHL can be made to make mistakes if enough pressure is applied."
In Game 4 of this best-of-seven series, the Capitals continued their commitment to team defense and overcame a strong performance Barrasso for a 4-1 victory.
Washington returns to Pittsburgh for tomorrow's Game 5, up three games to one and needing one more victory to move into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
"It still isn't over," said Schoenfeld. "It was a big victory, but we know they know how to win, we know they're not going to quit and we know the hardest game to win in any series is the one played to eliminate a team.
"We played very well here. We'll have to be a lot better in the next one."
Washington got brilliant goals from Dimitri Khristich, Peter Bondra and Joe Juneau and then rejoiced as veteran center Dave Poulin -- who has spent the past two games holding Mario Lemieux to a total of five shots -- scored into an open net.
At the other end of the ice, Capitals goalie Don Beaupre turned in his third outstanding performance, making 21 saves.
He allowed only one goal, to Pittsburgh's Martin Straka, while HTC being screened in the first period.
"What we've been able to do starts with the goalie," said Juneau, who had a goal and an assist. "And it continues with the fourth line on out. We've allowed them one goal in two games, and I'd say with our goaltending and defense it's totally expected."
Juneau put the Capitals through a scary moment with five seconds left in the first period, when he fell to the ice after being slashed three times on the arm and hand by Pittsburgh's Rick Tocchet.
"It hurt, but I guess it's just part of the game," Juneau said.
This is the NHL not the NBA, but don't tell that to Kevin Hatcher, Juneau and slam-dunk specialist Peter Bondra.
With a little more than six minutes to play in the second period, Hatcher started a fast break, with a pass to Bondra, who dropped the puck in the crease for Juneau and then headed to the net.
Juneau gave him the perfect pass and Bondra did a 180-degree spin and slammed the puck past Barrasso at 13:47 to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
"The Samuelsons are both stepping on me when I get the puck, so you don't have to be smart to know Peter's open," Juneau said. "Peter made a great drop to me and then kept skating. I saw the replay. It was cool. It's a lot of fun playing with this team."
It was a play that stunned the Penguins and gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead that they carried into the third period.
With 1:42 gone in the third, Juneau scored his second goal of the series.
This one came on the power play off assists from Michal Pivonka and Khristich and gave the Caps a 3-1 lead. The Caps had been 1-for-20 on the power play.
"After they got the lead, they took it to us," said Pittsburgh coach Ed Johnston, who added for the first time in this series, "they deserved to win. They're playing very, very well. I can't see them playing any better . . . But you have to win four before it's over."
The Capitals defense has turned Super Mario (Lemieux) into just another player in this series. With Poulin shadowing him, he has become a nearly invisible man.
The Caps allowed him three shots Thursday. Last night, he got two.
"Dave Poulin has been remarkable," said Schoenfeld. "Doug Brown was out there running picks for Mario, and he was picking Poulin, and it was a smart play. But when Dave couldn't get to Mario, Michal Pivonka or Kelly Miller did. That line is a big reason we're up in this series."
Another reason is the team's penalty killers, which also includes that line. They've allowed Pittsburgh just one goal on 18 power plays.
Pittsburgh 1 0 0 -- 1
Washington 1 1 2 -- 4