- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2000

Eric Clapton blasted on the speakers throughout the locker room and offices at the Washington Capitals' practice facility at Piney Orchard before yesterday's workout. Several Caps played pingpong.

After three straight losses to the Pittsburgh Penguins the Caps face first-round elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, that doesn't mean the confidence that served them so well during the regular season is gone.

"Everyone in here believes we can still win," said Chris Simon, who put the Caps on top 1-0 in Game 3 in Pittsburgh on Monday night. Washington would go on to lose the game 4-3, dropping them into a 3-0 hole in the best-of-7 series.

The Caps held a team meeting before yesterday's practice and emerged determined to prove the system that helped deliver the franchise its second-best regular-season record remains good enough to win the series, starting with Game 4 tonight at MCI Center.

"We have to believe in our system and stick to it," Simon said. "But we have to do it for 60 minutes, and if it takes longer, then in overtime. We can't let our guard down for a second."

That's where the Caps believe they lost Games 2 and 3 in the brief moments when, for one reason or another, they fell out of their disciplined scheme.

"We have to play the same way, but we can't give them opportunities," Simon said.

Washington also is banking on the reworked playoff schedule to save it.

As the higher seed, Washington normally would play Games 1 and 2 at home, but because of a dance show in Pittsburgh and network television demands, the Caps had to accept one of two scenarios. They either could play Games 1 and 2 in Washington, which would cause Games 2 and 3 to be played on consecutive days in Washington and Pittsburgh, respectively, or play Games 2 and 3 in Pittsburgh, with days off between games. The Caps opted for the latter and after losing the opener at home 7-0 dropped the next two in Pittsburgh by scores of 2-1 and 4-3.

Caps coach Ron Wilson refused to use the schedule as an excuse and said his team will have an advantage with the next two games and three of the next four at home.

"At least the hope is there that if we can return to form on home ice that we're going to have to just win one game in Pittsburgh," Wilson said. "We can use our fans to win a game at home and bounce back."

That would be quite a bounce. It's only been done twice before once against the Penguins, when the 1975 New York Islanders came back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Pittsburgh, and 33 years earlier by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"We've won four in a row a number of times this year," Wilson said. "We've had the longest undefeated streak in the league this year. We've had the longest winning streak at home. We finished higher in the standings. There's a lot of things that we can point to that say there's a chance we can come back in the series."

Several times in the past the Caps have been on the other end of comebacks against the Penguins. In 1996, they opened up a 2-0 lead winning the first two games in Pittsburgh, no less only to lose the next four (three of them in Washington) to lose the opening round series.

The year before, Washington took a 3-1 lead against Pittsburgh, only to see the Penguins come back to win the first-round series.

And in yet another opening-round playoff series, the Caps blew another 3-1 lead against the Penguins in 1992. In 1987, Washington went ahead 3-1 against the Islanders, only to lose that series as well.

Hence, to come back from a 3-0 playoff deficit would rewrite playoff history for the Caps.

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