- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2001

There's no talk about Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. No claims of demons to exorcise. No jokes. No bravado.

It was like watching Don Rickles turn into Dale Carnegie.

Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson must be trying to win friends and influence people because he has nothing but good things to say about their opponent tomorrow in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Mario Lemieux Penguins.

Not just good things. Great things. Wonderful things.

"How do you win a series when you are facing arguably the best talented team in the league?" Wilson said. "If they're on their game and we're on our game and they work as hard as we do, how can we beat them? What are we supposed to do?"

Wilson has gone as far as comparing the Caps to … dare I say his name … the great Tiger Woods. He even went as far as bringing up one of the Caps owners, MJ himself. (Will the Caps be devastated if Jordan has to divest his ownership of them as well if he comes back to play?)

Wilson made those comparisons when asked if the Caps have a monkey on their backs when it comes to the Penguins, a franchise that has won five of the six playoff meetings with Washington. If the Caps' number of goals equals the number of times they have had to answer that "monkey" question this week, that is how they can beat Pittsburgh.

"I don't think there is a monkey on our back," Wilson said. "How do Phil Mickelson and David Duval feel playing against Tiger Woods? How do the Utah Jazz feel playing against Michael Jordan? It's not a psychological hurdle. It's overcoming the skills of great hockey players, and that's what we have to do. Mario Lemieux is one of the greatest players of all time, and maybe the greatest player in the world right now is Jaromir Jagr. Those are the guys we have to deal with. We don't have to deal with any psychological baggage here, not at all."

He's right. They have enough to deal with on the ice.

Wilson is hardly giving up. After all, his team beat the Penguins in their last two regular-season games, and he has a pretty good idea what his team is supposed to do to win.

"We have to be right on top of our game, and we have to be a little lucky to beat these guys," Wilson said. "It's that simple."

There is a different tone among the Caps going into this playoff series against the Penguins compared to last year, when the talk was about playing and winning all seven playoff games in Pittsburgh after the Penguins sabotaged the Capitals' home-ice advantage by scheduling an ice dance show in Pittsburgh that conflicted with their playoff dates.

The anger over the hand the Caps were dealt in scheduling may have contributed to some of the talk that fanned the flames for the Penguins last year and perhaps led to a loss of focus for the Caps going into the first game, a 7-1 beating by Pittsburgh that Washington never recovered from, losing the series in five games.

Plus, the Caps were perhaps a little too full of themselves last year, going into the playoffs with a 31-10-6 record since Jan. 1, the best in the league.

This year, it's all peace, love and understanding.

"Last year I think we were a little too overconfident going in," general manager George McPhee said. "We had a big season. I'm not sure we practiced properly two or three days before the series started. We got waxed in the first game, and that threw us off for the entire series. It was the worst loss we had all season. This year we know what we are up against and know what we are as a team, and I think we are better when we're in that frame of mind, that we're up against a good team and it's going to take everything we have to beat them."

Goalie Olie Kolzig echoed McPhee's assessment. "I think we were a little overconfident last year," he said. "I think we thought we were a better team than we really were, as far as individuals. I think we thought we were world beaters, and it came back to haunt us. We got a little bit of humble pie in that series."

Humble pie. They were serving it in big slices at Piney Orchard Ice Arena after practice yesterday, with Wilson the lead baker.

"We have to find a way to compete for 60 minutes and never let our guard down," he said. "How do you beat Tiger Woods? You don't make any mistakes, period. Is that possible? I don't know. We almost have to be perfect to beat this team. That's what we are seeking to be in a quiet way."

Ron Wilson, the Quiet Man? He must really want this series bad.

"[Wilson] is a little more on edge this week than I've seen him for a while," McPhee said. "He is always well prepared, but he is very focused and has an agenda right now. It's pretty clear he wants to win this, in a big way."

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