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  It Didn't Look Good From the Start
By Christine Brennan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 1990; Page F08

Capitals Logo The sinking feeling hit Washington goaltender Mike Liut first.

Unbelievably, the puck was behind him, sitting in the net. Fifty-three seconds into the game, and it already could be a lost cause.

"You see the game slipping away even before you get a chance to play it," Liut said last night after the Capitals gave up the first goal and ended up losing, 3-2, to the Boston Bruins, who swept the Wales Conference finals.

"It's a tough way to start a game," Liut said of John Carter's goal off a rare Rod Langway mistake. "I thought that might have sunk us. It's potentially a disastrous goal. In a situation like that, the game could have gotten out of hand . . . There we were, wanting to play a good game, wanting to get the crowd into the game, and that happens."

Wasn't it just the way the series went for the Capitals, who rode the crest of a Patrick Division wave right into a black and gold seawall the past week? Six nights earlier, all things seemed possible for Washington, entering its first conference final. Six nights later, all was lost.

Or was it?

Liut, who patiently answers and re-answers every reporter's question, win or lose, let his eyes wander around the Capitals' locker room one last time.

"It's a step further for this team," he said. "It's a step in the right direction. There are a lot of young players on this team, a lot of guys without any playoff experience. Careers are made in the playoffs. John Druce had a great playoffs, all three series. He'll be better next year because of it. Next year, this will be a better club than last year, because of this."

There was quite a bit of discussion among the Capitals about whether The Sweep ruined The Escape -- that is, the Capitals' break with their past by winning two playoff series this year.

Nobody asked the fans, but their actions said, "Absolutely not." What was left of the sellout crowd of 18,130 stood and cheered wildly until every last Capital left the ice.

"The Patrick Division was important for the older guys on the team, but not for the younger guys," said Alan May, one of the latter. "We just wanted to keep playing. I'm not a golfer."

The Capitals still have not won a game in May, but at least they've played in the most important month on the NHL calendar now. Not that that put much joy in Coach Terry Murray's heart last night.

"This is a very difficult press conference," he said as he began. "I never thought at the start of this series it would go 4-0."

Murray had hoped that Washington would grab the lead last night, which would have been a rare thing, indeed. The last time the Capitals led was in the second period of Game 1 last Thursday.

"We wanted to get the first goal and see what it's like to be in the lead," he said.

But no. When the Bruins scored again to go ahead, 2-0, near the end of the first period, it looked almost hopeless for the Capitals. But Washington made it interesting by cutting the margin to one goal twice, 2-1 with 4 1/2 minutes left in the second period and 3-2, with 9 1/2 minutes left in the game.

The second Washington goal was scored by Dale Hunter, who turned his good work into bad slightly more than five minutes later when he was called for slashing in the Capitals' end with 3:54 left in the game.

Murray wondered why the penalty was called at such a crucial time.

"I was very surprised there would be any call made with 3 1/2 or four minutes to go," he said. "It seems to be a new philosophy that's taken place."

Even so, just as he did Monday night when he took a penalty to negate the Capitals' momentum after tying the game, and later made a bad pass that led to a Boston goal, Hunter was the center of attention at the wrong time for Washington.

And so it went in this series. "I was thinking the Capitals were on a roll," said Boston Coach Mike Milbury, once again reminding everyone the series might have been very different if Washington's Dino Ciccarelli and Kevin Hatcher had been healthy.

"After winning the two Patrick Division series, to lose four straight, you come away with an empty feeling," Murray said. "I feel we disappointed a lot of people. The fans are the people I'm talking about."

"Right now, it's hard to take," said May. "But in a few days, a week or so, we'll be able to look back and have some satisfaction with the first two series."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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