- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 18, 2000

PITTSBURGH It could be argued that the Washington Capitals are simply grasping at straws when they say two teams have come back from 3-0 deficits in NHL playoff history, so there is hope. They also list the fact that three of the next four games are at MCI Center so the series is winable if they can steal one win in Pittsburgh.

What is a cold, hard fact is this: Washington's offense has not been able to get untracked in the postseason and even when it scored three goals, that wasn't good enough to win against a team that is perhaps the biggest group of underachievers in the league.

The Caps last night failed to hold on to a lead and ended up losing 4-3 to the swifter Pittsburgh Penguins last night, pushing Washington to the edge of playoff elimination. The Pens, with a 3-0 lead in the series, need just one victory to advance to the next round.

This is the sixth time the teams have met in a postseason series with Pittsburgh winning four of the previous five. The Penguins now have won seven straight playoff games over Washington. But the franchise also was the last to have a 3-0 lead and blow the series, losing 4-3 to the New York Islanders in 1975.

Last night Washington had a first period lead, fell behind twice and twice rallied to tie. The third time the Penguins moved ahead, they stayed there.

The turning point came in the second period when Washington suddenly stopped playing its sound defensive game and tried to match Pittsburgh stride for stride. Three out of four times in the regular season and two out of three times in postseason the Caps have made that mistake and paid the price. Last night was no exception.

"We have to find ways of slamming the door shut when we've created advantages for ourselves," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "We've got a 1-0 lead and maybe you could say we should be up 2-0, 3-0, but you've got to give [Pittsburgh goalie] Ron Tugnutt and their defense some credit. Then in the second period, I don't know why but we started to get a little loose and sloppy up the ice. I looked up and the shots on goal were 16-2 [Caps] in the second period and I thought if we continue this, this is Caps' hockey. We were just grinding them down and we got loose up the ice and that resulted in us eventually taking some penalties and they got some momentum."

Chris Simon had staked Washington to a 1-0 lead in the first. But three goals streaked in during the sloppiness in the second, two by the Penguins. Jan Hrdina scored on a power play when smooth Pittsburgh passing moved the Caps defenders out of position; Pat Falloon tucked a puck into the cage when it got terribly sloppy to put the Pens up but Jeff Halpern knotted the game again with his first NHL goal, this time with Pittsburgh sloppy.

The third period was a nightmare that turned completely around and then turned nightmarish again. Goalie Olie Kolzig, who had a spectacular regular season, was the victim twice, letting in a horribly easy goal by Hrdina and then the game-winner by defenseman Jiri Slegr with less than five minutes to go. In between, Caps defenseman Calle Johansson blew a 55-footer past Tugnutt and for nearly 90 seconds the game was tied for the last time, the Caps had hope again.

"For most of the game tonight we played pretty good," said Kolzig. "We had two letups, obviously I can't let a goal like that I let in in the third, on the third goal, if we expect to go anywhere this year. Funnier things have happened. [The media] is going to say it's 3-0, good luck but we're still a pretty confident team, we've been through a lot this year and we know we can put a nice little string together."

It will take four straight, nothing less.

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