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  Bruins Check Caps, Go to Cup Finals
By Dave Sell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 10, 1990; Page F01

Capitals Logo The rocky but most successful of Washington Capitals seasons came to a sweeping conclusion last night as the Boston Bruins eliminated the Capitals from hockey's Stanley Cup playoffs with a 3-2 victory in the Wales Conference finals.

A capacity 18,130 at Capital Centre saw the Bruins beat the Capitals for the fourth time and leave three games of the best-of-seven series unplayed.

Prince of Wales Trophy in hand, the Bruins move on for the second time in three years, 17th time in all, to the Stanley Cup finals, where they will play either the Edmonton Oilers — who swept them four straight for the 1988 Cup — or the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Capitals, who had never before reached beyond the Patrick Division to the league semifinals, are left to ponder what it takes to make the next step.

"One big roller-coaster ride, but it's been the most successful season," Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens said.

"It's disappointing to be in the conference finals and get swept. But the way we started, the way we struggled, I guess it was a pretty good year."

Last night's game started as the previous three had, with the Bruins scoring the first goal and then playing splendid defense in front of goalie Andy Moog. They frustrated the Capitals at nearly every turn and, when Washington tried too hard, the Bruins translated the Capitals' errors into goals.

Cam Neely, consistently their top gun, scored twice for the Bruins, who also got a fluky but crucial first-minute goal from John Carter.

Nick Kypreos scored the Capitals' first goal, which cut the Bruins' lead to 2-1 in the second period. After Neely scored early in the third period, the Capitals didn't die easily, but could only manage Dale Hunter's goal off John Druce's setup with more than nine minutes left.

"I never thought at the start of this series that it would go four and oh," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said.

The last time a team was swept in the conference finals was 1984, when Edmonton beat Minnesota in the Campbell Conference.

"Being the eternal pessimist, I thought it would go six or seven games, because the Caps were on a roll," Boston Coach Mike Milbury said.

The Capitals were behind last night before the game was a minute old. It was a familiar situation.

"The combined lead time for the Caps had to be about five minutes," Milbury said.

Milbury overestimated. The Capitals led this series for only 3 minutes 26 seconds, and that was in Game 1, which might have been the turning point in this series.

The Capitals' problem throughout the series was scoring. Hunter's was their only third-period goal. They never were able to put the kind of pressure on Moog that they put on the goalies of the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, whom they beat in the earlier rounds.

Last night, they finished with just 14 shots on goal.

The Capitals were without two important offensive players, right wing Dino Ciccarelli and defenseman Kevin Hatcher, both of whom had sprained left knees and missed the series. Ciccarelli had hoped his teammates could keep playing long enough for him to return.

"I'm going to play in Game 5," Ciccarelli said yesterday morning. "Just give it a couple more days. Every day I'm on the ice, it gets better."

Now he will have all summer to heal. Only two teams (the 1941-42 Toronto Maple Leafs and 1974-75 New York Islanders) ever recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game playoff series. The Capitals had printed the results of those series on cards and put them on the wall in the locker room. Owner Abe Pollin gave them a pep talk yesterday morning.

On the other side, Milbury was worried.

"By the time I got to the rink, I was a wreck," he said.

But Milbury was pleased with the start. It's difficult to imagine it starting in a worse way for the Capitals. The crowd already was quieter than usual. They had seen the Bruins play two nights earlier and had to sense that the end was near. Still, they generated a small roar when the Capitals came onto the ice.

But just 53 seconds from the start the place went as silent as a building can be with more than 18,000 people breathing.

Defenseman Rod Langway is not a scorer by any means, but he is usually very reliable in his own end. He was at his blueline and decided to go backward with a pass to defenseman Neil Sheehy, who was in the slot. But Langway did not get enough on the pass and ex-Capital Bob Carpenter intercepted with a head of steam.

Moving in, Carpenter went past Sheehy and deep into the circle to the right of goalie Mike Liut. Carpenter saw Carter cutting, but partially fanned on the pass, and it went right through the middle of the crease. Liut, who was back in the net, tried to clear it away to the far side. Carter couldn't get his stick on the airborne puck. But it ricocheted off his leg, went back between Liut's legs and into the net.

"I must have done something that he anticipated," Langway said of Carpenter. "That was my fault, no doubt about it."

"That might have sunk us before we got started," Liut said. "But we hung right in there."

With Geoff Courtnall off for elbowing, the Bruins had a power play late in the period. Greg Hawgood collected the puck behind the Capitals' net and fed Neely in the slot. He one-timed it into the far corner for a 2-0 lead with 1:18 left before the break.

Early in the second, Capitals right wing Tim Bergland was called for tripping Bob Beers. Knees knocked. Bergland was fine, but Beers suffered a broken femur and was taken to Sibley Hospital.

Kypreos was in the game to check and play defense, but he got the Capitals back in the game when he backhanded a pass from Steve Leach past Moog with 4:28 remaining in the second period.

"I really thought it could open the floodgates for the rest of the guys," Kypreos said of his first playoff goal. "But 15 or 16 shots a game won't do it. We peppered {Rangers goalie John} Vanbiesbrouck. But we couldn't do it here."

Instead, the Bruins scored next. Rookie Steve Maltais, making his first playoff appearance as a Capital, thought he had taken Brian Propp out of the play by knocking him to the ice. But from a prone position, Propp backhanded a pass through the goal mouth that Neely swatted in for a 3-1 lead 2:08 into the third period.

"The work ethic was great from everybody," Murray said. "It just didn't happen as a team."

But the Capitals didn't fold. Druce carried behind the Boston net and threw a pass to the slot, which Hunter flipped past Moog to cut the deficit to 3-2 with 9:33 left.

But that was it. The final margin was symbolic of the Capitals' series defeat. It was not a loss of gigantic proportions. The Bruins were clearly the better team, but there were no blowouts. It was a little mistake here or a shot that just missed. Kelly Miller's penalty shot in Game 1, which hit the crossbar and bounced away, proved to be prophetic.

"It seemed," Murray said, "like we were caught in between all the time."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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