Shutout puts Caps on brink

May 06, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals couldn't have picked a worse time to play their worst game of the postseason.

Down 2-0 in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series, playing on their home ice and planning to throw "everything they have" at the New York Rangers, the Capitals were desperate for victory.

The desperation will be even greater tomorrow, in Game 4, because the Capitals did little to prevent the Rangers from walking off with a 3-0 victory in Game 3 behind the fine play of goalie Mike Richter.

"We're wounded. We're bleeding, but we're not dead yet," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "Any time you dig yourself a hole like we did, it's difficult to come back. We just haven't played well offensively, and that made this a very long night."

Richter made 21 saves for his third shutout of the postseason.

Washington goalie Don Beaupre also faced 21 shots, and aside from the third goal, when Steve Larmer beat him, there was little to fault in his effort.

New York scored its first two goals on power plays. One, by Brian Leetch, came when the puck went in off defenseman Sylvain Cote's skate. The other, by Mark Messier, came when Beaupre was unable to get help behind his net.

The Capitals are down 3-0 and looking at elimination here tomorrow.

Only two teams in NHL history have come back to win after being down 3-0. They were the 1975 New York Islanders in the quarterfinals with Pittsburgh and the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, in the championship series against Detroit.

"You've got to find the positives," said defenseman Kevin Hatcher. "We know what happened. We gave them a couple. They were aggressive in the neutral zone. And Richter didn't leave us any rebounds.

"We have to make some changes for Game 4. We've got to score. We've dug a big hole. We're not kidding ourselves. But we'll bear down. We're not out of it yet."

Washington hoped to take its game to a higher level last night, but instead fell back to Earth with a thud.

The team that had played with so much determination and heart in Game 2, without Beaupre, forward Michal Pivonka and defensemen Calle Johansson and Jim Johnson, looked ordinary last night.

They came out flat, though Hatcher said, "The Rangers made us look flat because they always had someone in our face to prevent us from getting anything going."

By the time they generated any emotion in themselves or the 17,952 fans in attendance, it was much too late.

"We just played an excellent road game," said Rangers coach Mike Keenan. "We were fearful of what we saw in Game 2. We anticipated that kind of play, and we wanted to make an impression on them in the first four or five minutes. And we did. We showed we were equal to the task."

This was New York's seventh straight postseason victory, and it had many asking for comparisons between this team and Keenan's 1992 Chicago team that won 11 straight before being blown out in four straight in the Stanley Cup finals.

"This team is more disciplined and has a greater maturity level," Keenan said.

Last night, no one could doubt it as the Rangers clearly dominated every aspect. And while New York used power-play goals from Leetch and Messier and a beautiful even-strength goal from Steve Larmer, the Caps could not solve Richter, who also shut out the Islanders twice in the quarterfinals.

Even more worrisome for Washington was that the majority of good opportunities they created went wide and didn't even count in the final shots-on-goal total.

And it didn't help when Peter Bondra left the game in the second period with a bruised shoulder and did not return.

The loss of Bondra further depleted Washington's attack, which was without Pivonka, the team's leading scorer in the postseason.

"I think New York played its best game, and their goaltending was superb," said Capitals right wing Keith Jones. "They didn't give us much space tonight, so we've got to find a way to make some holes in them by [tomorrow]."

Washington's best opportunity to score came late in the third period, when Dave Poulin had the puck in front of Richter.

Poulin held the puck. He waited and waited for Richter to move. But the Rangers goaltender held his ground, forcing Poulin to make a move for the shot.

"It probably seemed liked five seconds to Dave, though it probably wasn't more than one or two," said Keenan. "Dave tried to out-patience him, but no one is out-patiencing Michael right now. When Dave moved, the shot went wide."

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