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  Early, Late Goals Doom Capitals
By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 1998; Page D1


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Playing the first-ever Stanley Cup finals game in the city of Washington, the Capitals got off to a historically bad start last night at MCI Center, one that ultimately proved their undoing not just in Game 3 but likely in the best-of-seven series, which Detroit now leads three games to none. The dagger came from Sergei Fedorov, who scored with less than five minutes remaining for the 2-1 Detroit victory, but the Red Wings laid the groundwork in the first period when they held the Capitals to one shot, only the second time that has happened in a Stanley Cup finals game.

After losing each game in this series by a goal, the Capitals find themselves just 60 minutes away from elimination with Game 4 set for Tuesday at MCI Center. Only one team in NHL history has come back to win the Stanley Cup after trailing three games to none, and although karma may be on Washington's side — the lone team to accomplish the feat was the 1942 Maple Leafs, eliminating Detroit — the better play in this series certainly has come from the Red Wings.

"You only need to look at the Red Wings' play, whether it's along the boards or their composure or their grit, and we haven't matched that player for player," Capitals right wing Brian Bellows said. "We're finding out that the difference is minuscule, but it really shows up on the scoreboard sometimes."

It showed up almost immediately on the scoreboard last night, when Detroit silenced the enthusiastic sellout crowd of 19,740 just 35 seconds into the game. Tomas Holmstrom, who has terrorized the Capitals in this series, knocked in a loose puck on the Red Wings' first possession, and Washington, which already had recorded one shot at the 20-second mark, appeared unable to regroup. The Capitals went almost 23 minutes without another shot, and although they finally got a goal from Bellows midway through the third period, it wasn't enough to fend off Detroit, which prevented overtime with Fedorov's goal.

After the clock ran down to zero, the Capitals quietly filed off the ice as most of the fans filed from their seats. A segment of the crowd loyal to the Red Wings remained, and a few fans threw octopuses onto the ice, a long-standing Detroit tradition. Arena workers scurried to clean up the boiled sea creatures as the Red Wings fans began chanting "sweep, sweep," but they could do nothing to clean up the evening for the Washington players, who did their best to remain optimistic as they shed their equipment in the dressing room.

"This is when the cliches come out, where you say one game at a time, one shift at a time," said goaltender Olaf Kolzig. "We can't think about trying to win four straight, because that's too big a task."

Kolzig, who ended the night with 32 saves, often kept Washington in the game, especially in the first period, when the Capitals were lucky to escape with a 1-0 deficit. Washington was outshot 13-1, matching a Stanley Cup finals record Detroit set in 1995. In that year, the Red Wings recorded just one shot in the third period of Game 4 against New Jersey, losing the game by 5-2 and completing a sweep for the Devils.

Last night, the Red Wings came out of their dressing room after the first period looking ready to write a repeat script, although the Capitals looked ready to put up more of a fight than they did in the game's first 20 minutes. They still did not manage a shot on goal until 3 minutes 11 seconds into the period, but it was quite a shot, one that came off defenseman Joe Reekie's stick and almost slid into the net.

Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood didn't see the puck glance off Larry Murphy's skate until it trickled past him on his left side, sliding toward the empty net. Osgood reached backward, stretching out his body until his glove reached the puck, grabbing it just before it slipped over the goal line.

In the end, the shot did nothing to advance Washington's position on the scoreboard, but it seemed to be a major release for the team, which started to attack the Detroit net, especially on two early power plays. Later in the period, right wing Peter Bondra broke free for a two-on-one with rookie Richard Zednik, but Osgood made a nice glove save and the Capitals returned to the dressing room for the second intermission still down, 1-0.

It took until 10:35 of the third period for Bellows to break the Detroit yoke, benefiting from nice work from Adam Oates on the left side of the Detroit zone. Weaving through the Red Wings' defense, Oates took the puck to Osgood, who made the initial save after Kris Draper dove to the ice. But by then Kirk Maltby was poking at the puck to get it out of danger and instead directed it toward Bellows, who knocked it into the net to tie the game at 1.

The fans exploded into the loudest cheers that have rung through this building since it opened in December, although none looked as happy as the players on the ice. The glee lasted less than four minutes, however, when Fedorov scored his first goal of the finals with 4:51 remaining. The Capitals did not record another shot after Fedorov's goal, leaving Coach Ron Wilson with more questions than he could answer about his team's stop-and-go effort.

"I don't see why you have to be in the finals to know how to play hard," he said. "I mean, you work so hard to get here, and then we have some guys who have not played very well at all at this point."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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