Caps say team on brink isn't like the old ones STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

May 09, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Mike Ridley stood outside the dressing room Saturday at USAir Arena, a bruise below his eyebrow, like ugly red eye shadow.

He has been a member of the Washington Capitals for eight years, and has seen a lot of good players -- and not-so-good players -- come and go.

He has heard all the criticisms of previous Capitals teams, heard their character maligned, heard all about how they can't win in May.

Can't win when it matters.

But the Capitals are playing the New York Rangers tonight in Game 5 because, when it mattered on the first Saturday in May, when the Capitals were down 3-0 in games and 1-0 in the first 33 seconds of Game 4 and could have taken the easy way out and called it a season, they rallied to win, 4-2.

And when the Capitals were faced with a two-minute, five-on-three disadvantage that could have been their undoing in that game, Washington killed the penalty.

"Over the years, this team has seen all kinds of individuals play here," Ridley said. "A lot of them had great character and have gone on to other teams and are still playing well. . . . But this team -- there is such emphasis on leadership now -- and the one thing we've proved is that we won't give up."

It has been their most valuable asset.

"There is a lot of power -- great power -- in believing," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld.

But even Schoenfeld, who has been feeding the Capitals a steady diet of positive thinking, says he has never been part of a team like this, that has gotten so far on so little, either as a player or a coach.

"But being part of it, being emotionally involved in it, you don't sit back and say, 'Man, they did that?' It just seems normal. You simply think, 'Well, that's the way they are.' "

Every time one of their key players has been knocked out of a game or a series, the Capitals have responded by picking themselves up.

Sylvain Cote, Dale Hunter, Calle Johansson, Michal Pivonka and Peter Bondra have missed games with injury. Kevin Hatcher missed three-fourths of one with a penalty. Joe Juneau was close to being sidelined in Game 4, and now Ridley is walking the tightrope between being able to go and sitting out.

Schoenfeld describes his center as "probable." No one is saying what his problem is.

A shoulder? he was asked. An arm? "Just say it's upper body," Ridley said. "But I expect to play. That's part of the character, too. This team just sucks it up and plays.

"Everyone knows the next game could be our last game, and I wouldn't want to be out. I think I can still help."

"What we've accomplished has come from pure commitment from a lot of guys," said Hunter.

"If we didn't have the depth, we would never have made the playoffs because we've been playing without guys all year because of injuries -- and suspensions," said Hunter, who missed 21 games while serving the longest suspension in NHL history for the late hit he delivered in last season's playoffs.

When Hatcher considers what the Capitals have been through this season -- suspension, injuries, firing of coach Terry Murray and a last-minute rally just to make it into the postseason -- he says it has made the Capitals better.

"We're all on the same page now," said the team captain. "With a team like we have, if you don't all turn the page together, you're not going to finish the book."

CAPITALS TONIGHT

Eastern Conference semifinals

Opponent: New York Rangers

Site: Madison Square Garden, New York

Time: 7:38

TV/Radio: Channel 20/WITH (1230 AM), WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: Don Beaupre will be in net again tonight for the Capitals. On the injury side, D Calle Johansson (traumatized nerve in leg), C Michal Pivonka (groin) and D Jim Johnson (knee ligaments) remain out. RW Peter Bondra (shoulder) is day-to-day. Coach Jim Schoenfeld said Mike Ridley, while not on the official injury report, is hurting and his playing status won't be known until game time. New York reports no injuries.

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