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 Capitals Section
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  Caps Were Close, Aim to Pull Even
By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 11, 1998; Page E1

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DETROIT, June 10 — It took the Washington Capitals most of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals to discover that the scouting reports were overblown and that, in fact, they could play almost as well as the Detroit Red Wings. In Game 2 here on Thursday, they will find out whether they can play better than Detroit, but with the Red Wings already leading the best-of-seven series, one game to none, the learning curve is getting steeper.

Playing just well enough to lose will not be good enough in Game 2. With Games 3 and 4 in Washington, a loss would not be a deadly blow, but it would certainly give the underdog Capitals an ugly bruise.

"We came here for a split," Coach Ron Wilson said. "If we lose [Game 2], we are down two to nothing in a series. Obviously against a team like Detroit, it is going to be difficult to come back from, but I don't believe in my heart that it is impossible.

"I think our minds are a bit at ease from what to expect from the Red Wings. We know that they will play better, but we also understand that we can play much better. [Game 1] was a feeling-out process, and we came out of it. We got opportunities to tie it in the third period and maybe get overtime and a victory, but the bottom line is that it is winning and losing, and how you play doesn't really amount to anything."

The Capitals lost, 2-1, after allowing goals on consecutive shots in the first period. They battled back late in the second period, taking advantage when the Red Wings began to sit on their lead, and rookie Richard Zednik scored the Washington goal. Both teams fought doggedly in the third period, but goaltenders Olaf Kolzig of Washington and Chris Osgood of Detroit were sharp, and Detroit retained the lead.

Afterward, the Capitals spoke of feeling relatively confident, knowing that a few key bounces or unmade mistakes could have turned the game around. The Red Wings, overwhelming favorites in this series, praised the Capitals and talked of how difficult they expect this series to be.

"Well, talk all you want, now we see what this is about," Coach Scotty Bowman said. "Washington's record shows that in the playoffs, it doesn't matter what kind of game is going on, if the scoreboard shows within a goal, it gives them what they need."

The words are nice, but eerily familiar. In the first three rounds of the playoffs, the Red Wings lured their other opponents into a similar state of confidence. The seduction might not have been intentional, but it was there all the same when Phoenix, St. Louis and Dallas played well against Detroit and fell anyway. The Coyotes took a two-games-to-one lead before losing, four games to two. The Blues took the first game of their series here but also lost, four games to two. The Stars split the opening pair of games but lost, yet again, four games to two.

Because the Red Wings haven't been blowing out other teams this postseason, they have been seemingly vulnerable yet just superior enough to be annoying. Wilson actually knows the syndrome well, having been Anaheim's coach last season when the Mighty Ducks fell to Detroit in the second round. The four-game series included six overtime periods, but the Red Wings still won what went into the Stanley Cup record book as a sweep. There is no asterisk next to the score, explaining how well Anaheim played.

Aware of this, the Capitals are determined to come up with an effort on Thursday that will do more than just keep them close.

"We have got to get more pucks at the net," left wing Craig Berube said, noting that Detroit outshot Washington 31-17. During the first and second periods, the Capitals went almost 14 minutes without a shot. "I think in that game we were gaining the blueline and kind of looking to make plays rather than just putting it at the net. We have done that in the past in the playoffs, but we went back in the next game and got a lot of shots, so we are hoping to get 30 or more shots in the next game."

Left wing Todd Krygier, who has missed the past few games with a strained groin, should be back in the lineup to add speed to the offense, and coaches will counsel all the players on how to better handle the Red Wings' left-wing lock, a system that often keeps a forward back to help the defense. The Capitals' most important improvement will need to be on their power play, however. On Tuesday, Washington recorded one shot on four extra-man opportunities. Even more embarrassing, Detroit recorded two shorthanded shots, actually outshooting Washington on its own power play.

"We can't afford to make mistakes like turnovers because they're a team that can make something happen out of nothing," Kolzig said. "Going into Game 1, it wasn't that we didn't believe we couldn't win, but we didn't know what to expect. Now we realize that, hey, we can play with these guys. They might say they didn't play as well as they can, but I don't think we did either. We'll see who plays better the next time."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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