Capitals feel at home in Game 2

Washington hoping its depth, defense will frustrate Penguins again

Hockey

April 14, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

A year ago at this time, the Washington Capitals were already down a game in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series and on their way to Pittsburgh for Game 2. It was not a happy time for the Caps, who had worked all season for home-ice advantage and were forced to give it up to their hated rival because of a conflict, not at MCI Center, but in the Penguins' building.

"When we went to Pittsburgh, we were already behind the eight ball," said goalie Olie Kolzig. "This year, we've won Game 1 and now have Game 2 at home. It's a huge difference, especially with the energy our crowd generates in our building."

When the Capitals step on the ice this afternoon for Game 2 in this best-of-seven series, a white cloud will envelop them. The cloud will be composed of 18,672 people, mostly Caps fans and mostly dressed in white and waving those silly, but inspirational white pompoms.

The reception will be, in part, a payback for Thursday night's work in a game that not only gave the Caps a 1-0 series lead, but also a stunning 1-0 victory in which they held the NHL's brightest stars, Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, to two total shots.

The Capitals did it while playing four solid lines in short, intense shifts that stifled Pittsburgh's big guns, who were playing long, energy-sapping shifts. Lemieux logged just over 24 minutes, while Jagr and Alexei Kovalev both clocked more than 22. By the third period, most of the game was being played in the Penguins' zone, and Pittsburgh managed just four shots in the final 20 minutes.

Pittsburgh coach Ivan Hlinka must have decided rest, not practice was in order yesterday. He made the Penguins' practice at Piney Orchard Ice Rink optional and did not make Lemieux, Jagr or any other player on Pittsburgh's top three lines available.

"Guys are playing every other day and playing a lot of minutes in games," said Pittsburgh assistant coach Randy Hillier, who made the trip to the rink with a handful of players. "We decided to give them the opportunity to take some time, and get some treatment if they needed it."

So Lemieux, Jagr (who is bothered by a calcium deposit on his hand) and company rested. The Capitals, meanwhile, skated and pondered what the Penguins might throw at them tonight.

"They're great players, talented players," said Caps center Trevor Linden. "We're not going to shut them out every game. The great thing about the playoffs is knowing the other team is going to change things to counter what you've done.

"But, we weren't playing out of character last night. That's the way we have to play to win - four scrappy lines, grinding it out."

Caps coach Ron Wilson expects the Penguins to "try to be more creative, to create more scoring chances and to try to draw more penalties." The pressure, he said, is still firmly on the Penguins.

"We're the team that's on the defensive," Wilson said. "We have to play the same way and react to what they do. We have to stop them."

In Game 1, the Capitals used a united team defense in which every player contributed. The defensemen stood up strong at the blue line and the forwards kept the puck pinned along the boards and behind the net so much that it generated pure frustration among the Penguins' offensive stars.

At one point, Kolzig said, Lemieux got so tired of waiting for his teammates to get the puck away from Ulf Dahlen, he said he was going to go get it himself.

"All season we've thrived off transitions and the Caps just didn't let us do that," said Pittsburgh right wing Billy Tibbetts, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1, but made the trip to Piney for the optional practice yesterday.

Tibbetts said he'd never seen Lemieux held without a shot.

"But I'm not worried, he'll be fine," Tibbetts said. "But you know the Caps' `D' did a fantastic job slowing us down in the neutral zone. ... We've got to work on our transition game."

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