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 Michael Wilbon wrote that the series-clinching win was a "special night" in Caps' history.
 When the Caps took a 3-1 lead in the series, they sought to avoid past playoff jinxes.
 Capitals Section
 NHL Section

  Caps Bury Ghosts of Playoffs Past
By Dave Sell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 28, 1994; Page D01


Capitals Logo Ignoring derisive talk of their frustrating playoff history and predictions that the Pittsburgh Penguins would win the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals sent the Penguins home for the summer with a 6-3 victory last night in front of 15,523 at USAir Arena.

The triumph gave the Capitals a 4-2 victory in the best-of-seven National Hockey League Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. The seventh-seeded Capitals advanced to play the top-seeded New York Rangers in the conference semifinals, which begin Sunday night at Madison Square Garden.

This is the first time since 1991 that the Capitals have gone past the first round in the playoffs. They surprised many by taking a 3-1 lead over the Penguins. But when Pittsburgh won Game 5 on Monday, it resuscitated talk of the '92 playoffs, when the Capitals gave back a 3-1 lead and lost that first-round series to the Penguins, who went on to win their second straight Stanley Cup.

"All that stuff, I'm not even listening to it," said Capitals center Joe Juneau, who scored the game's first goal, when asked about the team's disappointing playoff history. "I'm new here and a lot of guys are new. You just can't live in the past. It's funny. Everybody was talking, 'Oh, here we go again. The Caps are going to lose after being up 3-1.'

"Nobody in here was even thinking about it. Our coach {Jim Schoenfeld} even talked about it. He said, 'The past has nothing to do with us.' Even the guys that were here when that happened, they are changed now. We had a chance to do something and that's what we're working for."

Besides Juneau, Kelly Miller and John Slaney scored against Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso to give the Capitals a 3-0 lead in the first period. The Penguins cut the deficit to 3-2 before intermission on goals by Rick Tocchet and Jaromir Jagr.

But Capitals Calle Johansson and Dave Poulin scored in the second period to extend the lead beyond the reach of the Penguins. Mario Lemieux scored in the third period, but Michal Pivonka put the puck into an empty net for the final margin.

The Capitals got a slew of excellent performances in this game and this series. More than anything, it was a team performance.

"They did all the little things you have to do in playoff hockey," Penguins Coach Eddie Johnston said. "You have to be a pretty good hockey club to hold our club to an average of two goals per game."

Washington did that with batches of forwards and some key defensemen, never letting the Penguins' stars go wild. Lemieux was shadowed incessantly. When Dale Hunter was hurt in Game 2, Dave Poulin took over and was superb, with last night no exception.

Defenseman Kevin Hatcher had a disappointing regular season, but was brilliant in this series. When he was given a game misconduct for high-sticking Jagr in the first period, Sylvain Cote -- who missed two games with a broken orbital bone -- stepped up and did the job. Lemieux led the Penguins in scoring but he couldn't dominate, and Juneau and Pivonka had as many points.

When the forwards let a Penguin slip by, Capitals goalie Don Beaupre was there. Beaupre played wonderfully despite a sore groin muscle. With the Capitals up 1-0, they lost track of Lemieux and he came down the slot before rifling a shot. Beaupre snagged it with a glove. The crowd roared. A tone was set.

"Man, oh man, oh man, oh man was that sensational," Schoenfeld said. "How many goaltenders do you see stop Mario Lemieux bearing down like that?"

For much of the series, the Capitals tried to play hard, but were willing to let the score stay at 0-0 and take their chances with a late goal. This time, they came out flying.

Juneau faked two shots before slipping a real one under Barrasso for a 1-0 lead with just 1:29 gone. With hustle and help from Mike Ridley, Miller scored shorthanded for a 2-0 lead with 7:49 gone in the game. The Capitals had only two power-play goals before last night, but the third was key. Pivonka got one of his two assists on a pass to Slaney, who scored to make it 3-0 with 10:18 left.

Then came the period of adversity for the Capitals. They mixed up some assignments, so when Beaupre stopped Larry Murphy's shot and that of Ron Francis, no one was there to stop Jagr from scoring to cut the deficit to 3-1 with 9:28 left in the period.

With Juneau already in the penalty box, Hatcher let his stick come up and it cut Jagr just after he crossed the blueline. Referee Andy vanHellemond did not see it, but linesmen are allowed to help on such calls and linesman Gerard Gauthier told vanHellemond that Hatcher was responsible. This was terrible in two ways. First, Hatcher was gone for the game. Second, Tocchet scored on the 5-on-3 power play to cut the deficit to 3-2.

"At that point, you can't have sympathy for yourselves," Cote said.

Shedding no tears, the Capitals carried on. They killed the rest of the power play and plowed forward after intermission.

Johansson began and ended a rush. After the Penguins failed -- again -- to clear the front of their net, Johansson scored the game-winning goal with 1:25 gone in the period.

Though Lemieux scored in the third period and Pivonka scored into an empty net, the real insurance goal was the Capitals' fifth, scored by Poulin midway through the second period.

Earlier in the game, Poulin knocked Lemieux down with a clean check. A bit later, Lemieux cross-checked Poulin in the face. While vanHellemond signaled a delayed penalty, Poulin skated down the ice, took Pivonka's pass and buried the shot. The irony was rich.

"Dave Poulin," Schoenfeld said, "is a hero."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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