Penguins turn tables on Caps, 2-1

Lemieux's goal ties Eastern series at 1


April 15, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals were in the middle of a line change when Pittsburgh Penguin Mario Lemieux slid into position just in front of the far post - the perfect spot to knock in the rebound of a shot Jaromir Jagr blasted toward the net.

"That puck bounced right to Mario's wheelhouse," said Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig.

The puck came flying in and hit a couple skates to elude Kolzig's grasp. He was left helpless as Lemieux took his first, and so far only, shot in the series for the deciding goal in the Penguins' 2-1 victory at MCI Center yesterday.

The win ties the NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at 1-1, as the two teams head to Pittsburgh for tomorrow night's Game 3 at the Mellon Arena. Game 4 also will be played there Wednesday.

"I think we turned the tables on them," said Lemieux, whose stony disposition after Game 1 was replaced by a sunny one.

The goal was not only the game-winner, but Lemieux's first playoff goal since April 26, 1997, in his last game before recently ending a 3 1/2 -year retirement.

"They looked like the frustrated ones today," Lemieux said of the Capitals. "That's what is going to happen in the playoffs."

In Game 1, it was Lemieux who was frustrated. The Caps played their own smothering defense that held him without a shot and Jagr to just two in Washington's 1-0 victory last Thursday. The Capitals didn't let up on him or the Penguins yesterday, either. It took Lemieux 16 minutes and 34 seconds to get that goal-scoring shot, running his total time without a swing to 76 minutes and 34 seconds.

"Well, the best players in the world are going to find ways to put the puck in the net," said Peter Bondra, who had Washington's goal on a power play at 9:25 of the first period. "But we felt good about our team tonight. They didn't give us much, but they didn't get much, either. If we keep working, good things will happen."

Bondra's goal matched the power-play goal of Kevin Stevens, who scored on a deflection at 7:13 assisted by Lemieux and Jagr.

Four goals have been scored in these quarterfinals, and only Lemieux's has been at even strength. Bondra has both of Washington's power-play goals.

The series has been a story of defense. Everyone knew the Capitals played it, but maybe no one knew quite how well. No one was sure if the Penguins would play it, but they played it quite well in Game 1 and yesterday seemed to utilize the Capitals' game plan to wrest away this victory.

"I thought they did a great job at their own end, really suffocating us tonight," said Kolzig, who made a series of wonderful saves to keep the Caps in it as the Penguins got off 27 shots. "It was just another tight-checking hockey game and it will probably be like that for the rest of the series.

"You have to give them credit, they almost played a similar game to us - clog up the middle and take everything away," Kolzig continued. "I guess they realize that defense wins championships."

Both teams played the tight checking style, but there were flaws in the Caps' system yesterday that weren't there in Game 1. Washington didn't hold the blue line as well as it did two days ago, failed to carry the puck into the Pittsburgh zone under control and made turnovers in its own zone. Part of that was the Caps own doing and part of it was because the Penguins picked up their own intensity, made crisper passes and won a few more board battles.

Still, it was anyone's game right down to the final seconds. Bondra, who worked hard at both ends of the ice, got off a series of shots that challenged Pittsburgh goalie Johan Hedberg in the third period.

The Caps' sniper rolled in and fired hard, hustled for his own rebound, fired, scrambled again to snag the rebound and made a third attempt. Hedberg, who stopped everything but Bondra's first-period shot to the far post that went under his leg, made those saves to total 17.

If there was a turning point, it came over the last 18 seconds of the first period and the opening 3:42 of the second.

With 18 seconds to go before the first intermission, Pittsburgh's Alexei Kovalev swung his stick high and cut Washington's Trevor Linden's right eye. The incident put the Capitals on the power play for four minutes.

"It was a nice opportunity for us," said Caps assistant coach Tim Army. "[Sylvain] Cote hit the post. [Sergei] Gonchar hit the post. Oates had [Dainius] Zubrus in the high slot and just missed on a passing play. We had chances. It could have been a turning point, because they got through it."

And once through it, Pittsburgh coach Ivan Hlinka was more willing to use his fourth line, rest Lemieux and simply hold the Caps at bay by building the same kind of defensive wall the Caps had used on Pittsburgh in Game 1.

"They came here for a split and left with one," said Kolzig. "Now it's our turn."

Pittsburgh 2 0 0 - 2

Washington 1 0 0 - 1

First period - 1, Pittsburgh, Stevens 1 (Lemieux, Jagr), 7:13 (pp). 2, Washington, Bondra 2 (Gonchar, Linden), 9:25 (pp). 3, Pittsburgh, Lemieux 1 (Jagr, Hrdina), 16:34. Penalties - Konowalchuk, Was (goalie interference), 5:51; Oliwa, Pit (charging), 8:28; Klee, Was (tripping), 9:45; Kovalev, Pit, double minor (high-sticking), 19:42. Second period - No scoring. Penalties - None. Third period - No scoring. Penalties - None. Shots on goal - Pittsburgh 12-7-8-27. Washington 10-4-4-18. Power-play opportunities - Pittsburgh 1 of 2; Washington 1 of 3. Goalies - Pittsburgh, Hedberg 1-1 (18 shots-17 saves). Washington, Kolzig 1-1 (27-25). A - 18,672 (18,672).

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