Caps perfect a 1-0 win over Pens

Defense, Bondra goal provide playoff victory


April 13, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - There is supposed to be no such thing as the perfect murder or the perfect hockey game.

But last night the Washington Capitals played their game plan to perfection, and it was murder for the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

The Capitals won, 1-0.

Peter Bondra scored the game-winning goal on Washington's revitalized power play, and Caps goalie Olaf Kolzig, after surviving a scary first-period replay that could have given the Penguins the initial lead, made 16 saves, including two heart-stoppers on 2-on-1 breakaways.

The score gave Bondra 25 playoff goals, which tied Dale Hunter's club record.

"They say in the playoffs your goalie has to be an eraser," said Caps head coach Ron Wilson. "Tonight, he really made the big saves when we needed them."

Fans making up an MCI Center sellout of 18,672, shaking white pompoms and lending boisterous support, could hardly believe their eyes. The underdog Capitals had dominated the mighty Penguins.

"Considering their talent," said Kolzig, "this is as close to perfect as we're going to get."

Now, Washington needs three more wins just like this one if it hopes to win this best-of-seven series that resumes here tomorrow at 1 p.m. As of last night, 50 tickets remained available.

By midway through the second period, Pittsburgh coach Ivan Hlinka had split up his No. 1 line of Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Jan Hrdina, looking for a little space for someone on his team.

But little space was to be found, as Washington shut out Pittsburgh in a playoff game for the first time since 1994 and second time ever.

Lemieux had no shots - the first time that has happened since his comeback this season. Jagr had one, until he added a wrap-around attempt in the final seconds.

"That is playoff hockey," said Lemieux. "They play a tight-checking game. What are you going to do? That's the way the game goes in the playoffs. It's not going to be free wheeling like an all-star game. If you expect that, you're in the wrong place."

The Capitals' game plan was to play a disciplined game.

No silly penalties.

Solid team defense.

They wanted to keep their sticks on the ice to knock away Pittsburgh passes. They wanted to fight along the boards for possession of the puck. They also wanted to avoid a run and gun game with the Penguins.

They did all of that.

"It was a great hockey game for everyone but us," said Penguins head coach Ivan Hlinka. "They didn't give us much room to do something nice. It was a great tempo for a hockey game."

And the Penguins know their rookie goalie, Johan Hedberg, can play.

Despite losing, Hedberg, 28 and playing in only his 10th NHL game, made 26 saves, allowing only Bondra's goal, a shot on which he was screened.

"We've got to find ways to score more than one goal, that's for sure," said Jeff Halpern, who, teamed with Steve Konowalchuk and Ulf Dahlen, excelled against Lemieux and company. "They got chances. You have to expect they're going to score some goals. This [game] is not something to sit on. We've got to find three more wins."

Though the Capitals played to perfection, they were still lucky to get out of the first period in a 0-0 tie. Because at 11:29, shortly after failing to score on a 5-on-3 power play, the Caps almost saw the Penguins take the initial lead.

Given the way this series has gone in the past, with the Penguins winning five of their six previous meetings and usually getting the lucky breaks, one would think in any other year there would have been no almost about it.

But when Hrdina put a rebound over Kolzig's right foot for what looked as if it could be a goal before Caps defenseman Calle Johansson reached in with the blade of his stick to pull the puck out, there was no official call of goal.

And when the play was reviewed in the replay booth, officials looking from camera angles from all sides and even from directly over the goal could find no definitive view that showed the puck actually completely crossed the goal line.

"No goal" was the call, and it inspired the Capitals. Run the tape. It will tell the tale.

"Tonight was a total team effort," said Wilson. "That was a tremendous effort. You put together one of your best efforts of the season, and you only win 1-0. What lies ahead?"

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