Wait, don’t leave! There’s no need to avert your eyes. This isn’t a recap of the Capitals’ brutal playoff history against the Penguins, which has approximately zero bearing on this year’s series. This is a look back at the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, also known as that one time the Capitals actually sent the Penguins packing for a change. Nothing but good vibes around here.
The 1994 playoffs marked the third time in four years that the Capitals and Penguins squared off. Pittsburgh had won the Stanley Cup in two of the previous three years and, after winning the Northeast Division, entered the postseason looking to make good on Capitals Coach Jim Schoenfeld’s prediction that they would win it all again. (Schoenfeld began the season as analyst for ESPN before replacing Terry Murray behind the Capitals bench in January.)
Washington’s recent playoff failures were — surprise, surprise — a hot topic of discussion before the series.
“I guess it does because it’s been built up, but is it any worse than with most other teams?” goalie Don Beaupre responded when asked whether the Capitals’ playoff history ever entered his mind. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve gone to the semifinals, we’ve won in the first round a couple times. I don’t think it’s too bad. Everybody is looking for more, no doubt. But is that any different than anywhere else?”
Others were less interested in entertaining questions about the past.
“Why should I address the failures of someone else?” Schoenfeld said.
“It’s out the window,” center Dave Poulin said. “A lot of us weren’t here and a lot of us have no interest in that. We can’t. We’re concerned with the here and now. We have a great opportunity ahead of us.”
The Capitals trailed 2-1 after the first period, but rallied to take a 3-2 lead into the third at Pittsburgh’s Civic Center. Joe Juneau and Michael Pivonka capped the scoring in a 5-3 win, as Washington overcame two goals by Mario Lemieux. The only bad news for the Capitals was the loss of Sylvain Cote, who broke the orbital bone under his right eye in the second period after being on the receiving end of a cross-check.
The following day, Tony Kornheiser wrote of a rare D.C./Baltimore trifecta:
I feel like I’m writing this on a block of ice that’s melting as I type. I don’t know how long I have before it all dissolves, so let’s cut to the chase:Caps win.Bullets win.O’s win.Redskins go 48 hours without cutting anybody beloved. (What happened? Did Casserly jet off to the Bahamas for the weekend?)Enjoy this winning while you can. Celebrate it. Revel in it.“Stinkus weum” is no longer the motto of the nation’s capital.For one brief shining moment, it’s “Weus rulem.”
Schoenfeld started rookie Byron Dafoe in place of Beaupre in Game 2, a 2-1 loss that evened the series. Schoenfeld went back to Beaupre in Game 3 and the veteran made 27 saves for his third career shutout in a 2-0 Washington win. Both Capitals goals came from the same unlikely source in trade deadline acquisition Joe Reekie, a defenseman who scored one goal during the regular season and had 14 goals in 382 career regular season games.
“They come few and far between, so I’ll take them when they come,” Reekie said after giving the Capitals a 2-1 series lead.
Meanwhile, the Redskins were preparing to draft Heath Shuler.
“One more.” That was Washington Post beat writer Dave Sell’s lede after the Capitals took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 4-1 win in Landover.
“Going against these guys, we went in as the underdogs,” said Pivonka, who had two assists. “I don’t know if anybody would put money on us, but I would.”
Beaupre stopped 21 of 22 shots, Cote returned to the lineup and Peter Bondra provided the game-winning goal in the second period.
The Penguins staved off elimination with a 3-2 win at home, forcing the team to confront its playoff history yet again.
“Nothing that happened before matters,” Schoenfeld said before Game 6. “I know very little about the history of this organization and I care less.”
None of it mattered when the Capitals closed out the series with a 6-3 win before 15,523 at USAir Arena in Game 6. Washington built a 3-0 lead in the first period, watched the Penguins cut it to 3-2 and then pulled away with second-period goals from Calle Johansson and Poulin. Poulin’s goal came on a delayed penalty on Lemieux, who had cross-checked him in the face.
“Dave Poulin,” Schoenfeld said after the game, “is a hero.”
As for all that history?
“All that stuff, I’m not even listening to it,” said Juneau, who opened the scoring with his third goal of the series. “I’m new here and lots 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.’ ”
Washington would go on to lose in the second round to the Rangers, but whatever, they beat the Penguins.
Here’s the rest of the Capitals’ playoff history against the Penguins, in case you’re curious:
1990-91: Lost Division Finals, 4-1
1991-92: Lost Division Semifinals, 4-3
1994-95: Lost Conference Quarterfinals, 4-3
1995-96: Lost Conference Quarterfinals, 4-2
1999-00: Lost Conference Quarterfinals, 4-1
2000-01: Lost Conference Quarterfinals, 4-2
2008-09: Lost Conference Semifinals, 4-3