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Capitals' Season Ends as Penguins
Rally From 3-1 Deficit

By Len Hochberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 19, 1995

PITTSBURGH, MAY 18 -- The Washington Capitals' regular season began so badly and ended so brightly. Tonight their postseason, which began so brightly, ended oh-so badly.

The Capitals were shut out in Game 7 of their NHL Eastern Conference first-round series by the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-0, before a sellout 17,181 at Civic Arena, completing a collapse from a three-games-to-one advantage. Thirteen times in NHL history teams have lost 3-1 series leads, and tonight the Capitals became the first club to do it three times.

"For me, I'm 1-1," said Coach Jim Schoenfeld, whose Capitals defeated the Penguins in last year's playoffs. "We faced the Penguins twice. We beat them them once and we lost to them once. I don't take much stock in what's gone on in the past, anyway. If it happens to be Pittsburgh next year, it's a brand new team and a brand new series. Just like this year, it was a brand new team, a brand new series."

The favored Penguins thus survived the Capitals and advanced to the conference semifinals against the New Jersey Devils, beginning here Saturday night.

Capitals rookie goaltender Jim Carey, the star of the regular season whose game had seemingly collapsed in this series, was much better tonight, as was the defense in front of him. He allowed two first-period goals -- the first on a breakaway after a defensive breakdown and the second on a power play after a teammate deflected the puck in front of him. The Penguins didn't score again until Troy Murray slid the puck into an empty net with four seconds left.

"They played well and I thought we played pretty well," said Carey, who had yielded 12 goals in the previous two games. "A couple of bounces the other way, we come out with a different outcome."

Carey's counterpart, Ken Wregget, who also struggled for much of the series, faced 31 shots in recording his third career playoff shutout. He played one previous Game 7 in this building, in 1989, when he beat the Penguins as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers.

"I'm very, very happy for Kenny Wregget," said Pittsburgh Coach Ed Johnston. "He was just outstanding giving up only one goal the last two games."

Said Schoenfeld: We have to give a lot of credit to Ken Wregget. I thought he had himself a whale of a game. And credit the Pittsburgh Penguins, they're a good hockey team. . . . They were the better team for seven games."

The Capitals let the New York Islanders rally from a 3-1 deficit in 1987 and failed to hold the big advantage against the Penguins just three years ago. Last year, the Capitals led the Penguins, 3-1, and lost Game 5, but then closed out the series in Game 6.

This time, the Capitals took a 3-1 lead after back-to-back 6-2 dominations at USAir Arena. Here in Game 5, they led twice in the third period before the Penguins rallied in overtime, 6-5. Pittsburgh then blew out the Capitals, 7-1, in Game 6 at USAir Arena.

With the season on the line, injured Capitals Mark Tinordi and Dave Poulin returned to the lineup to aid a defense that was atrocious in Game 6. Tinordi hadn't played since spraining his right knee on April 24. Poulin separated his right shoulder in Game 1. For Poulin, a 12-year veteran, this was his final game; he will coach at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season.

Both were on the ice for the defensive miscue that led to the first goal. As Norm Maciver skated with the puck down the middle of the ice, all five Capitals -- Poulin, Tinordi, Mike Eagles, Ken Klee and Calle Johansson -- somehow were caught on the right side. Maciver -- an offensive-oriented defenseman who was goal-less in the series -- was free and clear in the neutral zone and by the time the Capitals realized their error, he had a full head of steam. Tinordi and Johansson tried to get back into the play, but they collided and both went to the ice, leaving Maciver on a breakaway.

He deked a shot to the right and Carey bit, so Maciver slid the puck between the goaltender's legs. It was 1-0 1:37 into the game.

Jaromir "Jagr grabbed Calle Johansson's sweater, pulled him into Tinordi and there was a three-man pileup there," said Schoenfeld. "We missed our assignment on Maciver, who came in late. . . . We'd have liked to have seen an interference penalty called."

Then came another fluke, and another Penguins goal, after Capitals captain Dale Hunter took a foolish boarding penalty at 15:10.

Thirty seconds later, it was 2-0 after Kevin Stevens and Ron Francis broke in 2 on 1. Johansson and Stevens skated down the left side and, as Johansson applied a hit, Stevens slid the puck to Francis. By then, Kelly Miller had gotten back into the play. Miller got his stick on the puck, but it went to right to Francis, and right in.

And that was it, until Murray's empty-net goal with four seconds left.

"The game was 2-0 and we just tried to score a goal," said the Capitals' Joe Juneau. "We hadn't scored the whole game, so we're not shooting with confidence. And their goalie was hot. I think that was the story of the game."

The Capitals were hurt both offensively and defensively when Michal Pivonka, perhaps their best two-way player, was given major high-sticking penalty and a game misconduct penalty five minutes into the second period. They killed the Penguins' five-minute advantage and allowed only one shot, which Carey saved.

Carey arrived from the minors on March 1, with the Capitals' season in shambles, at 3-10-5. They turned things around almost instantly, and finished the regular season at 22-18-8, sixth in the conference.

The 29-16-3 Penguins were seeded third and among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Two games ago, they seemed headed for elimination.

"Overall, to fight back from where we started from, to come in sixth, we put up a good fight here," said Carey. "It's disappointing, but it's too late now to drag your lip. You just look forward to next year."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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