washingtonpost.com  > Sports > Leagues and Sports > NHL > Index > Capitals

Washington Ends on a Losing Note

Pittsburgh, Meantime, Closes Well: Penguins 4, Capitals 3

Associated Press
Monday, April 5, 2004; Page D07

PITTSBURGH, April 4 -- The Pittsburgh Penguins had only one regret after ending one of the worst seasons in their 37-year history: They wish they could play another month or two.

Lasse Pirjeta scored two goals and the Penguins, despite finishing last in the NHL standings for the first time since 1984, ended their late-season surge by beating the Washington Capitals, 4-3, Sunday in the season finale for both teams.


Pittsburgh's Dan Focht watches shot by teammate Milan Kraft elude Washington goalie Matt Yeats for game-winning goal late in third period. (Keith Srakocic -- AP)

_____On Our Site_____
Summary
_____ Monday Morning_____
 MondayMorning
A look back at the weekend and a look ahead at the coming week's action with a fresh new edge.

Starting Lineup
Weekend Rewind
Norman Chad's Couch Slouch
The Chat: Nine-time Grammy winner Herbie Hancock
The Show

_____ The Quote _____
"I was shocked that there's no trash. Even though there's thousands and thousands of people, millions of people... there's no trash. That was amazing to me."

-- Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, on his impressions of Tokyo after the season-opening two-game series against Tampa Bay.

_____ The Poll _____

Who will win the NCAA men's basketball title game?
Connecticut
Georgia Tech

Bonus 1: Which player will finish with the most points?
Emeka Okafor
Ben Gordon
Jarrett Jack
Luke Schenscher

Bouns 2: Will Connecticut sweep the men's and women's basketball titles?
Yes
No

   View results
Note: This is an unscientific survey of washingtonpost.com readers.

_____Capitals Basics_____
Capitals Section
Roster
Schedule
Statistics
_____NHL Basics_____
Scoreboard
Standings
Statistics
Team index
NHL Section
_____Penguins Basics_____
Penguins Page
Roster
Schedule
Statistics

After losing 18 straight games, the longest streak in league history but not a record, the Penguins went 12-5-3 -- the greatest turnaround by an NHL team in any season following a winless streak of 15 games or longer.

The Penguins also were 6-0-2 in their final eight home games after going 0-15-1 during a franchise-record, 16-game home winless streak. That run included a league-record 14-game losing streak.

Pittsburgh (23-47-8-4) also had one of their best season-ending, 20-game streaks in their 37-year history. Only in 1992-93, when their final 20 games included a league-record 17-game winning streak, did they get more than 27 points in the final quarter of a season.

Pirjeta, an unproductive player in Columbus until being dealt for Brian Holzinger at the trade deadline, helped lead the late turnaround with six goals in his final eight games, including a pair of two-goal games.

"We know it's going to be the same core group of guys the next few years, so it's definitely encouraging to play this well to end the season," rookie defenseman Brooks Orpik said.

The Penguins have a 48.2 percent chance of winning Tuesday's lottery and getting the first pick in the NHL draft -- almost certainly, Russian star Alexander Ovechkin. The last-place team hasn't won the lottery since 1997. Chicago finished second and has an 18.8 percent chance; the Capitals were third and have a 14.2 percent chance.

Pittsburgh traded up to get the first pick last season, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and could become one of only three teams in the last 30 years to draft No. 1 overall in consecutive seasons.

"It [the closing stretch] has been great, but everyone wanted us to finish last, too, so I guess everybody is happy -- except us," Ryan Malian said. "Obviously, you want to be in the playoffs."

After the game, the Penguins' Eddie Olczyk was given a standing ovation by the near-sellout crowd.

"We've laid the foundation and now we've got to take the next step," Olczyk said. "Sometimes we had to look past our performance . . . but we stuck to our plan and the young players got to play."

Milan Kraft scored the winning goal on a one-timer from the slot with 2 minutes 38 seconds remaining, less than 90 seconds after the Capitals' Jeff Halpern stole the puck off defenseman Eric Jackson's stick in front of the Penguins net to set up Brian Willis's easy goal.

Matt Bradley, who set up Kraft's goal, earlier put the Penguins up 3-2 by scoring off Rico Fata's pass from the near boards.

Pirjeta scored in each of the first two periods off setups by Aleksey Morozov as the Penguins opened leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2, only to have the Capitals tie it each time.

Asked if he was glad the season was over, Washington's Brendan Witt said, "The year, the awful year, yeah. . . . But as players we always enjoy playing, and now it's going to take a few days to sink in it's over."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company