- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 20, 2000

As Washington goalie Olie Kolzig had so succinctly put it, "Either we win or play golf tomorrow."

There will be no golf for the Capitals today or tomorrow. Washington avoided elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs last night with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the winning goal coming off the stick of Montgomery County, Md. native Jeff Halpern with seven minutes left in regulation.

But the threat of golf being taken up in the very near future remains a large one. Pittsburgh still leads the best-of-7 Eastern Conference first-round series 3-1 with Game 5 tomorrow night at the MCI Center. As it is, it was the Caps' first playoff victory since June 4, 1998, when Joe Juneau's overtime goal sent the Caps past Buffalo and into the Stanley Cup finals.

Washington won because it played desperation hockey, taking chances that are uncommon for this team, but there was no choice, as Kolzig noted. It won because in the second and third periods, it played Pittsburgh's game and beat the Penguins at it, scoring the tying and winning goals off rebounds that were generated by heavy pressure.

The Caps won skating at the Penguins' speed, which is something that some people didn't think could or would happen. And the Caps won despite having two goals called back, which brings to three the number of apparent Washington goals that have been disallowed in the four games played in this series so far.

"It was an excellent effort on our part," coach Ron Wilson said. "We've had three solid games in a row. When the pressure was on us (after the first period) we never stopped, we stuck with the game plan all night long. We finally got 60 minutes where we didn't make many mistakes."

What mistakes there were came under the category of "missed shots," a new entry this season on the NHL's computerized statistical grid. It had the Caps missing 21 shots toward goals last night, and that figure might have been conservative.

"We were down 3-0, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out we hadn't put 60 minutes together," Wilson said. "We didn't change our game at all. We just had to keep grinding, to find a way to being persistent around the goal, and we did."

But it wasn't easy. The Caps had a goal called back early in the first and another a third of the way through the third. It also had a goal disallowed last Saturday in a 2-1 loss in Pittsburgh.

Steve Konowalchuk scored the first goal that counted, with a huge assist from Halpern, but ex-Cap John Slaney tied it and star right wing Jaromir Jagr put the Penguins ahead before the first period ended.

Chris Simon pounded a Calle Johansson rebound past Ron Tugnutt for the second period's only goal to set up the third period heroics by Halpern. He scored at 12:55 when Tugnutt didn't cleanly handle a shot by Ken Klee, and the rookie drilled it into the upper left-hand corner. Halpern's goal was a power play effort, coming after Tugnutt hacked at Richard Zednik and got caught.

"I'd hate to see my average of trying that shot 99 times out of 100," Halpern said. "I was just trying to throw it in. I didn't see it go in at first. It was great to hear it from the crowd. It was a good win for us but we still have a long way to go… . I've been a Cap fan all my life, it's a great opportunity to be a part of this. I'm having the time of my life and I don't want it to end."

Washington played without defenseman Brendan Witt, out with what is being described as a groin problem. Pittsburgh was without first-line center Jan Hrdina, out with a strained back muscle.

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