Bruins Took Away Game 1, Killed Caps' Momentum
By William Gildea
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 11, 1990; Page B01
Almost to a man, the Washington Capitals knew when they lost the Boston series. It was Game 1.
"I thought the momentum came out of our locker room and our players," said Rod Langway, the team captain.
"I think we lost our confidence after we let the first game slip away," said Geoff Courtnall. "The third period of the first game that's where they took control."
The Capitals had taken a 3-2 lead in the second period the only lead they would have during the four-game series. The lead lasted less than two minutes into the third period. The Capitals turned the puck over several times and the Bruins capitalized twice on glaring errors; it was 4-3 Boston. An empty-netter made it 5-3. In retrospect, that was not just the game but the series.
"If we could have played 10 or 15 minutes with that lead, I think we might have been able to win the game," said goalie Mike Liut. "That might have turned the series."
What that defeat did was drain the Capitals' confidence and give Boston the momentum. The Capitals wanted a split of the first two road games. As if ordained, they were presented the opportunity. Converting two Boston giveaways in front of the net, they stole the lead that could give them the pivotal first game.
But the Bruins roared back. When they did, in the third period, they discovered they could succeed anytime they turned up the pressure. They wanted to score the first goal in Games 3 and 4 especially to quiet the opposition fans. The Capitals helped them out, but the Bruins did what they set out to do.
After Game 1, Langway said, "We started scrambling."
The Bruins remained steady. Realizing they'd won while playing one of their worst playoff games, they knew exactly what to do: maintain their game plan of discipline. Pressure the Capitals, play tight defense, take the hits and never retaliate.
"They were a real disciplined club," Courtnall said, "probably the best we've seen all year."
Whether it was the Bruins defense or an offensive collapse by the Capitals, or a combination, Washington couldn't mount a consistent attack. "We didn't cash in around the net," Liut said.
Andy Moog got so much help from his defensemen and the overanxious Capitals forwards who were getting off hasty and errant shots that the Bruins goaltender had all the games under control. He wasn't tested often, but when he was he was close to perfect. How well he did shocked the Capitals.
Except for a five-on-three goal in Game 3, the Capitals failed to score from the second period of Game 1 until late in the second period of Game 4. That's almost nine periods. With that lack of production, a team doesn't win so much as a game.
"They were the better team," Terry Murray said afterward, getting to the heart of things.
It was different after the Capitals lost the opening game of the Rangers' series. They swept the next four. John Druce got hot. But it was more than that. They seemed to know they could win.
"We felt more confident that we could beat the Rangers if we kept pounding their defensemen," Courtnall said. "They got so tired they couldn't go back and get the puck anymore. Whereas against the Bruins, we tried to get them off their game, but we couldn't."
"It's the division thing," goalie Don Beaupre said. "We had played them so much we knew exactly what it took to beat them. We just knew we were going to win. We knew against New Jersey too, even when we got down two games to one. Maybe we knew what it took to beat the Bruins, but we couldn't do it."
The Capitals had played Boston only three times during the regular season, losing twice. They suspected that the Bruins were a better team than any in the Patrick Division. Quickly, their suspicions were confirmed. They knew they didn't have much room for error -- and they knew they had erred grievously by not putting away Game 1.
"If we had a fault," Liut said, "it was that we overhandled the puck and didn't bring it to the net like we did against the Rangers. If you get too fine, too cute, you're going to have trouble scoring against the league's best defensive team."
"They took it away from us" -- that was an often-used phrase in the Capitals' locker room Wednesday night as the players came to terms with the Boston sweep. The Bruins took away Game 1 from them and, as Nick Kypreos put it, "Every time we seemed to get a little life, anytime we got a little close, they took it away from us."
"We had skated with them and taken it to them in Boston," said Courtnall. "But then we sat back a little and they took it away."
What the Bruins did in Game 1 they essentially were still doing in Game 4. After Kypreos's goal cut Boston's lead to 2-1, Cam Neely fired the clincher 2:08 into the third period. As Kypreos and others said, they didn't give the Capitals many chances and raised their play when the Capitals got close.
"They didn't back down," Courtnall said. "They covered for each other well. They were so consistent. They never really left us a lot of room to create anything offensively."
To Alan May, the Capitals lacked the overall consistency against Boston that they displayed in the first two playoff series. The Bruins had a lot to do with it; they simply didn't let the Capitals do much of anything they wanted.
"We changed from the way we played against New York and New Jersey," May said. "Some nights against Boston, two lines had it or three lines had it, but you've got to have all the lines clicking."
Clearly, the Capitals were outplayed and admitted it. It might have been a different series had they had the injured Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher but, as Courtnall said, "no matter how you look at it, Boston is a real good club."
A better club than the Devils and Rangers, the Bruins gave Washington one chance. They never made the mistake again.
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