Rangers eliminate Capitals

May 10, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The New York Rangers' Brian Leetch swept the Washington Capitals out of the Eastern Conference semifinals last night, with a goal with 3:28 to play.

Leetch, who has tormented Washington in all but one game of this series, found himself alone in front of the Capitals net and blasted the winner past goalie Rick Tabaracci, who had played a brilliant game in relief of starter Don Beaupre.

It was the last goal for a 4-3 victory in a wonderfully played game by both sides.

In the end, the sellout crowd of 18,200 at Madison Square Garden got its way and sent the teams off to the chants of "Let's go, Rangers." But many here and in Washington will remember the gritty performance of the Capitals.

Playing without key defensemen Calle Johansson and Jim Johnson and key forwards Michael Pivonka and Peter Bondra, the Capitals rallied from a 3-1 deficit last night to forge a 3-3 tie 27 seconds into the third period and keep the game in doubt up to the final buzzer.

"They played their hearts out," said owner Abe Pollin, who made a rare appearance at a road game. "I can't ask for more than that. I thought we were going to win in overtime. But the Rangers got the last goal and deserved to win.

"But I'm proud, very proud of my team."

The Rangers won the series four games to one to advance to the conference finals Sunday against the winner of the New Jersey Devils-Boston Bruins series.

"Every player left a piece of himself on the ice," said Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld. "I feel really bad for my guys. I think they played their hearts out and we overcame a lot, overcame a lot just to get into the playoffs, and we certainly overcame a lot to win the first series and to remain competitive here.

"We kept thinking we could overcome everything and go on and win it. But the Rangers had other plans."

But the Rangers know their plans were in jeopardy last night.

"They're a great hockey club," said left wing Esa Tikkanen, who put the Rangers up 3-1 with 8:56 gone in the first period. "They were 3-1 behind and they came back and tied the game. They worked hard, but Leetchie got up in that last play and put the puck in the net, and that's what we needed."

The Capitals return home for the season, taking some solace from how well they played but frustrated by not extending this series.

"To know we were down three games to none, to win one game and then be down 3-1 in the first period of this game and come back to tie, we can feel kind of proud," said captain Kevin Hatcher. "But we lost. There is no good feeling in that."

Veteran Kelly Miller, who started the play that resulted in Sylvain Cote's game-tying goal 27 seconds into the third period, could not see the bright side last night.

"There are a few games in this series we'd like back," said Miller. "We showed real effort, but it doesn't make it easier to take for me. This is my ninth year here, my 10th year in the playoffs. I'd like to win the Stanley Cup. It really matters to me. I want to get there, and it's upsetting that our chance for this year is over."

Hatcher, who had the best postseason of his career, gave his team hope early, when he scored Washington's first goal, from the Caps' blue line, to tie the game 1-1 with 5:33 gone.

"I thought, at that point, it might be the break we needed," he said of the bouncing clearing pass that eluded Rangers goalie Mike Richter and gave the Caps a 1-1 tie on a short-handed goal. "I thought we could build on it. And we did. We came back again and again."

Despite giving up three goals on 11 shots in the first 8:56 and seeing starting goaltender Don Beaupre pulled in favor of Tabaracci, the Caps were within 3-2 when the period ended.

The Caps' second goal was set up by some terrific work by Dale Hunter, who carried the puck into the Rangers zone, where he passed to Dimitri Khristich for a solid shot that rebounded to Shawn Anderson for the goal with 3:40 to play.

The Rangers struck for three goals from Adam Graves (two) and Tikkanen in the first 8:56 of the first period, inspiring Schoenfeld to shake up the team by sending in Tabaracci.

From 11:04 of the first period until there was just 3:28 left in the third, Tabaracci allowed nothing.

Washington ...... 2 .. 0 .. 1 .. -- .. 3

N.Y. Rangers .... 3 .. 0 .. 1 .. -- .. 4

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