Capitals step up, usher out Penguins

April 28, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals threw out the ghosts of playoffs past last night and beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 6-3, to advance to the NHL's Eastern Conference semifinals.

With confetti showering down from the stands at USAir Arena, their fans on their feet madly shaking red and white pompons and the clock winding down to zero, the Capitals hurled themselves into each other's arms in a wild celebration.

"This was a courageously played series, with the amount of physical play and stick work," Capitals general manager David Poile said. "We showed up for every game, no matter who was out -- our captain [Kevin Hatcher] gets tossed out of the biggest game of the year, and we respond by winning.

"It's a good feeling, especially considering all we went through this season."

Almost no one expected the Capitals, the seventh-place Eastern Conference qualifier, to oust the Penguins, the NHL odds-on favorite to win their third Stanley Cup in four years.

But the Capitals again played in-your-face defense, backed it up with another outstanding performance by goalie Don Beaupre and then, to silence any doubters, turned in their best offensive performance of the series to close out the quarterfinal series, four games to two.

"Wow-oh-wow-oh-wow!" Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld said. "I said going in it would take everybody, and it took everybody. We shut down their best players -- [Mario] Lemieux, [Jaromir] Jagr, [Kevin] Stevens. We played a very difficult, mentally taxing style, with everyone committed to it.

"I think we executed a little better than they did, and I know how badly everyone in that locker room wanted to win."

The best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series with the New York Rangers begins Sunday at 8 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

From the beginning of the Penguins series, the Capitals and their coach have insisted they are not the Capitals of old that squandered 3-1 leads. And last night, in front of 15,523, they proved it.

"We were nervous before this game until Schoeny talked to us," Capitals center Joe Juneau said. "He gave the best pre-game speech I've ever heard. He said he was nervous until he saw us and then his nervousness went away, that's how much confidence he had in us, and it made us all settle down and be confident in ourselves."

Before last night, the Capitals had never been 3-0 in home games in a single series, had never won a series after losing Game 5 and had never beaten the Penguins in the playoffs.

And before this series, the Capitals had never responded so well to adversity.

The Capitals, who have preached team over individual play, carried a 5-2 lead into the third period on goals by Joe Juneau, Kelly Miller, John Slaney, Calle Johansson and Dave Poulin. And despite losing Hatcher with 5:30 left in the first period with a game-misconduct and a five-minute major penalty for high sticking, the Capitals continued to dominate the Penguins.

"When Hatcher went out, they turned it up," Penguins coach Ed Johnston said. "I'm not taking anything away from them. They did all the little things you have to to win playoff hockey. You have to be a pretty good hockey club to hold our club to an average of two goals per game."

Beaupre, who made 16 saves in the first two periods, made 11 more in the third, giving up only a goal to Mario Lemieux with 9:18 to play.

And it was a glove save on a driving Lemieux with 3:29 gone in the first, that convinced Beaupre he was on his game. "It set the tone," said Beaupre said, who played in all four Caps victories. "To make a clean save like that on Mario . . . . How many times can you do that?"

Every time the Capitals have come upon a negative in this series with the Penguins, they have heard the words "rallying point." That's what Schoenfeld called it when defenseman Sylvain Cote was knocked out of two games with a fractured orbital bone. That's what he called it when Dale Hunter was knocked out of this series in Game 2 with a hip flexor. He delivered a similar message last night, when Hatcher was thrown out of the game for high sticking Jagr.

"It wasn't just getting losing our captain," Poulin said. "It was keeping our composure through the next five minutes. We did, and I think it won the game for us."

Pittsburgh ... 2 ... 0 ... 1 ... -- ... 3

Washington ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... -- ... 6

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