- The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2000

PITTSBURGH - Hopefully, Chris Simon has learned his lesson as he returns to the Caps lineup tonight.

The lesson is this: If you're Simon and you hit a person in the face with your stick, you receive a one-game suspension from the NHL. But if you're Jaromir Jagr and you hit a person in the head with your stick, you receive a man advantage from the officials.

The officiating was curious in Game 2. So was the assessment of the series provided by Penguins coach Herb Brooks.

"We have to play better, no question about it," he said.

The Penguins lead the Caps by only 2-0 in the best-of-seven series. The only way the Penguins could be in worse shape is if they held only a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

If the Penguins play better, the series is not likely to go beyond Wednesday night.

The Penguins have at least two ways to beat you. They can beat you on the ice. Or they can beat you on the acting stage.

The Penguins fall down and don't get up. You can spot the Penguins by the flares that are put down beside their prone bodies. They don't get mad after a solid hit. They get teary-eyed and say goodbye to their loved ones between coughs.

Penguins goaltender Ron Tugnutt has surrendered only one goal in two games. He is stopping shots with his glove and stick. He also is stopping shots with his hands tied behind his back and with his eyes closed.

If the net looked any smaller to the Caps, they would need a microscope to see it. They can't shoot the puck into the ocean, and even if they could, the officials probably would not see it.

Referee Paul Stewart did not see the puck in front of Tugnutt in the second period, which was too bad for the Caps. Jeff Halpern lifted the puck into the net, only to have the effort negated by a whistle.

Stewart could not see the puck, and Caps coach Ron Wilson would agree. In fact, Wilson would question whether Stewart can see at all.

Wilson is not uncharitable to the blind. He gives at the office. But he wonders why the blind and gullible were in charge of enforcing the rules in Game 2.

Perhaps this is the NHL's way of keeping pace with the enlightened NBA. The NBA received a considerable amount of favorable publicity after adding two female referees. The NHL is now employing the blind to call its games.

Wilson is not impressed, and nothing against the blind. The game is demanding enough without having officials who must pull out a rule book written in Braille before making a call.

Wilson is in a tough position going into Game 3 tonight in Mellon Arena.

He is not licensed to give each official an eye examination before the game.

As it is, you can't take Game 2 away from the Penguins, and athletes covet things that can't be taken away. They don't mind if you take away their expensive vehicles, but they become extremely upset if you try to take away a victory.

Wilson knows the feeling, considering the circumstances in Game 2.

The Penguins couldn't give all the credit to Stewart. Don Koharski, Mike Cvik and Swede Knox deserved credit as well. Each official received three stars from the Penguins after the game, along with free beers.

Brooks, to his credit, tried to credit the Caps as well.

"You have to give Washington all the credit," he said.

Giving credit is the principal pastime among sports types.

They give credit to each other. They also give credit to their parents, ex-wives and children in various cities, and sometimes, in hockey, they give credit in two languages to keep the bitter French happy in Quebec.

Brooks professed not to have seen the penalty call in overtime that rankled Wilson.

He had something in common with the officials. They didn't see it either.

It seems the Caps are about the only ones who can see in the series, and they are down 2-0, which just doesn't seem right.

Good eyesight is normally considered a prerequisite to most athletic engagements.

"I thought we played a great game," Wilson said.

You have to take his word on it. He has the advantage of two good eyes.

Meanwhile, the Caps have to win tonight.

Even the blind can see that.

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