Caps aim to drive road to perfection

Down 3-2, Washington faces must-win tonight at nemesis Pittsburgh

April 23, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Facing possible elimination tonight in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Mellon Arena, the Washington Capitals are in pursuit of perfection.

It seems nothing less will be enough.

"We have to play pretty close to perfect," said Caps coach Ron Wilson, who drilled his team on shooting at yesterday's practice. "We just have to continue to perform. We came in believing it was going to be a long series. We have to stick to the plan and in the end it will work. We just have to find a way."

The Capitals have played their defensive style to near perfection through the first five games, only to trail 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, after Saturday's 2-1 loss.

That loss was due to one bad shift, a 31-second blip in a 60-minute game that produced two Penguin goals.

There was no panic in the Capitals yesterday, just dogged determination. They realize that even after falling two goals behind Saturday, their strong defense had produced numerous good scoring chances.

Yesterday, the team concentrated on finishing those opportunities.

"Their goalie is making good saves, so we have to get a lot of bodies in front for screens," said Peter Bondra, the Capitals leading scorer. "And when you shoot, you have to make sure you hit the net."

Saturday, Bondra said he had several good chances to tie the game, only to see one shot go wide and another saved.

"For myself, I think I have to slow down a little bit, take the split second to look at where I'm shooting," he said. "Maybe, it is just timing. You never know when you are going to score. But this reminds me of the regular season. We'd have a stretch where we had trouble scoring, then we'd come up with six goals. Boom, boom, boom. A break early, we could score five or six."

It is brave talk, and maybe it will happen. To make it happen, the Caps have to play strong defense that creates scoring chances, including some odd-man breaks and power plays. They have to get traffic in front of Penguins goalie Johan Hedberg, and get the defensemen as well as the forwards, to shoot.

Still, it's defense first.

"If we play well defensively, we can win 1-0," said defenseman Sergei Gonchar, recalling the Game 1 victory. "It doesn't matter how we win. Now, we just have to win one game after another."

Just how the game will unfold - and Wilson said, "it is a mystery. You can't predict it." - will come down to execution.

"It's not about who scores first or how many goals are scored," he said. "It's how you respond after a score. It's being persistent whether you are down one or up one or two. There are points in the game when you have to rise above it."

The Caps and Penguins played so hard in Game 5, their tempers ignited as the game ended, 55 minutes of penalties were handed out, including a five-minute major misconduct to Jeff Halpern for spearing.

Yesterday, after looking at film, the team concluded Halpern was innocent and Ian Moran, the man who was speared, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it was Halpern's linemate, Steve Konowalchuk, who was guilty.

In any case, the Caps had not heard about any follow up action from the league by yesterday afternoon, and did not anticipate any.

And no one was making any apologies.

"It's typical Pittsburgh," said Halpern. "I saw Ulf [Dahlen] take 20 stitches in his mouth because of a stick foul that wasn't called. It's what they do. They stick you when the ref isn't looking and then go crying to the ref."

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