Caps Can't Finish What They Start
By Rachel Alexander
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 1998; Page D1
DETROIT, June 11 For almost 20 minutes tonight, the Washington Capitals could taste their first win in a Stanley Cup finals, gaining confidence as they twice held two-goal leads over Detroit in Game 2 of this series. But the defending champion Red Wings stormed back in a 10-minute span of the third period and won, 5-4, when Kris Draper scored almost 16 minutes into overtime in front of a sellout crowd at Joe Louis Arena.
Detroit leads the best-of-seven series two games to none as it moves to Washington for Game 3 on Saturday, but that might be marginal compared to the psychological edge the Red Wings claimed tonight as they broke Washington's postseason overtime winning streak at five games.
When it was all over, the Red Wings had become the first team since the 1956 Montreal Canadiens to overcome a two-goal, third-period deficit in the finals, and the Capitals had become even larger underdogs then they were when they started this series.
In the last 59 years, only three teams have been able to win the Stanley Cup finals after trailing two games to none. The Capitals soon will have a chance to stab at history, but even as the puck drops at MCI Center, it will be hard to erase the images of tonight.
There will be the freeze frames of winger Esa Tikkanen missing an open net midway through the third period, Steve Yzerman setting the Red Wings' comeback in motion with a short-handed goal and the picture of Detroit Coach Scotty Bowman thrusting one fist in the air as 19,983 fans celebrated the comeback.
"We let things slip away," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. "We made too many soft plays against a very hungry team, and they took advantage of some of our mistakes.
"It makes it difficult for tonight, but we will bounce back. We had the win right on Esa's stick, for God's sake, and that could have made it 5-3 right there, but it didn't."
Tikkanen's miss was not as dramatic as the penalty shot Joe Juneau missed in Washington's quadruple-overtime playoff loss to Pittsburgh two years ago. Still, it was a defining moment in an evening of huge momentum swings.
"Obviously, the third period was kind of a disaster for us. In that period they showed us why they're a championship team," Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi said. "I think the third period, if we had wanted to win this game, we should have beared down and played better."
The same could be said for the first period, in which the Capitals were widely outchanced, allowing Detroit to take a 1-0 lead on Yzerman's first goal of the night. Washington stormed back in the second period, however, going up by 3-1 when Peter Bondra, Chris Simon and Adam Oates scored in a 10-minute span.
Washington seemed confident, with players perhaps already imagining coming home with a precious split on the road. Yzerman's short-handed goal didn't even seem to rattle the Capitals initially, as Juneau came back 28 seconds later and scored to re-open the margin to two at 4-2.
But Detroit kept fighting, first with Martin Lapointe and then Doug Brown getting the puck past goaltender Olaf Kolzig (55 saves) in between Tikkanen's opportunity to tie the score at 4 with less than five minutes left in regulation.
Draper then scored the game-winner at 15 minutes 24 seconds of the overtime, getting a pass from Lapointe that Kolzig had no chance to stop. Draper had come off the bench on a line change and seemed to slip into the Washington zone unnoticed.
Lapointe made an excellent pass, darting the puck across the front of the crease just close enough to the net to allow Draper to make the short shot but too far from Kolzig to enable the goaltender to interfere.
The Capitals looked crushed when the puck crossed the goal line, although it was hard to tell whether they were more upset with Draper's goal or the events that led up to it.
"We didn't get the job done," Tinordi said. "We should have been able to finish this game. They won their home games. Obviously, we thought we should have won this game, but we'll go home now, and the fans will be excited to see us, and we have to come out with more intensity and finish it off."
It will be an uphill battle. The Capitals have lost each of the first two games by a goal, and to get over that hump they will have to play more aggressively throughout an entire game. Tonight's uneven play burned them both at the start and the end of the game, but especially in the third period.
The Capitals were quiet as they filed onto the bus for the airport tonight, and they will hold an optional practice on Friday. They have 48 hours to regroup.
"You have to-there's no choice," Kolzig said. "We could sit here and sulk, and it will be a quicker series than what we planned it to be.
"We have to learn from what we did tonight, and realize we can't respect that team quite as much as we did tonight, and get back to work tomorrow and work on some things."
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