- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

PITTSBURGH The Caps are done.
They can blame the officials, ABC-TV and Burn the Floor. They can blame the man on the grassy knoll, the one-armed man and the man in the moon. They even can blame the World Bank.
They can cite bad luck, bad breaks and bad water. They can check the lunar tables or with the fortuneteller down the street.
The Caps can do whatever they like now. They are only negotiating the terms of their surrender.
The Caps lost another playoff game to the Penguins last night at Mellon Arena. They also lost the rest of their season. Game 5 tomorrow night is incidental.
The Penguins have four chances to eliminate the Caps. The Caps, meanwhile, are out of chances if not hope.
The Caps outplayed the Penguins early again. The Caps outshot the Penguins again, too. But the NHL does not award bonus points for effort.
The Caps have accumulated too many could haves and should haves against the Penguins, and now they are wondering how it all could go so wrong so fast.
A week ago, the Caps were favored to vanquish the Penguins in five or six games, and even the scheduling problems did not seem to disturb Caps coach Ron Wilson.
Heck, he said, the Caps could play all seven games here and still do what was necessary against the Penguins.
A week ago, the Caps were basking in the spotlight, preparing to bust out in the postseason, reveling in the franchise's second-best season ever.
But that was before the Penguins defeated the Caps 7-0 in Game 1. That was before so much stuff started to go against the Caps. That was before Chris Simon received a one-game suspension and Jaromir Jagr was added to the endangered species list.
A week ago feels like a long time ago to the Caps, and their regular season does not look so special or meaningful.
The NHL's feelings wouldn't be hurt if Jagr's team advanced past the first round, and the Caps have discovered they first must get approval from the officials before they can gently bump the superstar. He is Mr. Jagr to the Caps.
Jagr can do what he likes to the Caps. He can crack one of the Caps over the head with his stick, and the officials will send the player to the penalty box for allowing his head to get in the way of Jagr's stick.
They call this obstruction heading, and the Caps usually receive two or three of these calls a game.
The officials also have encouraged the Caps to be kind to Jan Hrdina, Jagr's buddy.
Hrdina always passes the puck to Jagr. He also holds Jagr's hand in the locker room and carries his bags when they are on the road. Hrdina is that kind of guy. He is a good guy.
So, understandably, the Caps have extended Hrdina the same courtesies as Jagr. The Caps try not to get in Hrdina's way. The Caps do not want to be penalized for using their head to stop Hrdina's stick.
Hrdina can appreciate the thought. He has scored four goals in three games, including two last night.
Hrdina did not do it all. The Caps did it to themselves, too.
They had an open net in the third period. All they needed was a simple pass, left to right, Steve Konowalchuk to Adam Oates. The pass went awry, the Penguins averted a game-tying measure.
The Caps battled to the end, as they did in Game 2. They even tied the game. But then Jiri Slegr hit the puck high and hard past goaltender Olie Kolzig, and that was it. End of game. End of series. End of season for the Caps.
The Caps are down to a formality, and then they have an offseason to contemplate the awful circumstances.
They can start with Game 2. They were on the road when they should have been at home.
Going into last night, the home teams were 13-2 in the playoffs.
Home-ice advantage is why they play 82 games in the regular season, isn't it?
You never know with the NHL.
You just know the Caps are down 3-0 and in serious trouble.
The Caps can try to maintain a brave front. They can speak of their pride and of the next two games being in Tony Cheng's neighborhood.
But deep down, they know the reality. It is over for them.

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