Capitals center Esa Tikkanen was on the ice early yesterday, practicing the shot heard round the NHL, the shot he missed into an open net in Game 2 that may well have changed the entire momentum of this Stanley Cup Finals.
This time Tikkanen made the shot and skated over to coach Ron Wilson.
"You see what happens when you practice things like that," Tikkanen said to Wilson.
Wilson saw, and never a man to let an opportunity pass, the Caps coach set up a kind of Tikkanen drill at the end of practice. He had a goalie's glove positioned in front of an empty net, at just about the same spot that fallen Detroit goalie Chris Osgood had been lying that night in the third period of Game 2, and had the entire team take turns at making the shot.
A buzz came from the ice.
"It let me laugh a little," said Tikkanen. "A couple guys miss and there isn't even a real goalie on the ice."
By the time practice was over, everyone was laughing. As Wilson said, it lightened the moment, loosened everyone up and allowed Tikkanen's teammates to grasp the fact that "with everyone watching you, it's not as easy as it may look."
Tonight, in Game 4, nothing will be easy. The Capitals have to win or the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings will become the first back-to-back champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
As situations go in Stanley Cup history, this is one of the worst the Capitals could be in. Since 1960, 14 teams have been down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, and only once has one avoided being swept. That was the 1981 Minnesota North Stars, who forced the New York Islanders to play a Game 5.
"We need four shutouts from Olie," said Capitals defenseman Joe Reekie, only half kidding.
"It's his way of taking the pressure off," Kolzig said, with a laugh. "If we need four shutouts from me, well, I'll try, but the hole is a lot deeper than I thought if that's the case."
In fact, the Capitals do need Kolzig to continue to play his best hockey, but of equal importance is more Capitals offense. The team's powerful line of Peter Bondra, Andrei Nikolishin and Richard Zednik has just two goals in three games.
Bondra, the producer of 52 goals in two of the past three regular seasons, has one and Zednik, the rookie who had six goals in the first three playoff rounds, has the other.
Yesterday, Wilson did not sound hopeful that such a revival would occur and, though he is confident his team can win, he said the goal production may have to come from elsewhere.
"Our best players are being checked tightly by a whole team," Wilson said. "We've got to understand that Peter might not score. That [Brian] Bellows and [Joe] Juneau might be shut down and it's up to our other players to produce."
In the locker room, Bondra was admitting to his difficulty.
"Detroit plays well, give them credit," Bondra said. "And I'm not at the top of my game. I'm trying to keep it simple, but somehow, I can't get into what I had been doing. But this is a team game. I don't feel I have to score every game for us to win. We just have to stay patient. We have to find a way to win one game and go from there."
In another part of the locker room, Reekie said the Caps have to support Kolzig by playing as a five-man unit in front of him, clearing the rebounds after Kolzig makes the save.
And in his cubical, team captain Dale Hunter was saying this is no time to give up the fight.
"Being down three-zero is not the feeling you want," Hunter said. "But we're still alive. Being so close, as close as I've ever been, all I know is we've got to play better. We still have a shot at winning and I've been trying to do this my whole life."
The Capitals believe if they can just get this one win, the whole tone of the series might change.
"In the backs of their minds, they're thinking about a Stanley Cup parade on Friday," said Wilson of the Wings. "It's a test for them. Can they avoid thinking about it? They're professional enough they're not going to admit that they're thinking about it. But their friends and family are talking about it. They're hearing it. We can use that. The cliche is that the fourth game is always the hardest one to win. If we can just win, the pressure is on Detroit."
Washington vs. Detroit
(Detroit leads 3-0)
Date Res./Site Time .. TV
Gm 1 Det., 2-1
Gm 2 Det., 5-4**
Gm 3 Det., 2-1
Ton. at Wash. .. 8 ... ESPN
Thu. at Det. ... 8* .. Fox
Sat. at Wash. .. 8* .. ESPN
6/23 at Det. ... 8* .. Fox
*-If necessary; **-overtime
History is not on the Capitals' side. Twenty-four times in NHL history a team has been down 3-0, like the Caps are now to the Detroit Red Wings. What happened next?
Nineteen times the team down 3-0 has been swept.
Three teams forced a fifth game.
Two forced the series to seven games. Of the two, only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs rallied to win the Cup.
On the plus side, the Red Wings were the 3-0 leaders in both series that were forced to seven games -- and therefore, the only club to ever lose a Stanley Cup title after being up 3-0.
Pub Date: 6/16/98