- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001


In the frantic final seconds last night, when Pittsburgh's enormously talented forwards almost always find a way of getting the goal they need, the Washington Capitals stood tall. And the result was a huge victory.

The Caps parlayed Peter Bondra's power-play goal in the second period, a masterful and physical defensive performance and Olie Kolzig's goaltending to a 1-0 victory over Pittsburgh at MCI Center in the opening game of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference playoff series.

Bondra's goal was the sixth game-winner of his playoff career, a club record. It also was the 25th of his playoff career, tying him with retired center Dale Hunter for the Caps' mark. The goal was Bondra's 10th power-play score, one short of Hunter's franchise record.

The tone of the game changed very early, signifying whose building the game was in and who was in charge. Four minutes into the first period, Pittsburgh's Alexei Kovalev elbowed Bondra in the head along the boards, and a sizable scrum ensued. A few bodies flew and some hit the ice, but the message was quickly passed: mess with the Caps' stars and there will be some of the same for Pittsburgh mainstays.

From that point on, the game was very physical, but there was no further mugging of stars in the corners. In fact, the presence of Trevor Linden on the same line as Bondra went a great deal of the way toward ensuring there would be no more foolishness.

"The only way we're going to have any kind of success against the Penguins is a total team effort, and tonight we got that," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "That was a tremendous effort. You put together one of your best efforts of the season and you only win 1-0 what lies ahead? We've got to continue to work that hard, and it's going to be difficult."

There were no dogs on the ice for the Caps. They won 65 percent of the faceoffs, a huge statistic when puck control is critical; they took only two penalties and one of those, a roughing call against Brendan Witt in the first period, was very weak.

Kolzig was there for every tough stop he had to make, but it's tough to judge how well he played because the overall defense in front of him was as solid as a stone wall. He engineered his fifth career playoff shutout and the third in his last six starts, a clear indication that he has recovered from whatever was bothering him a few weeks back when the team was in a wholesale slump.

The winner came eight seconds after Penguins defenseman Janne Laukanen was called for holding 28 seconds into the second period. Washington's Adam Oates won the draw in the Pittsburgh end, and Chris Simon pulled the puck free and back to Bondra on the right point. The wing passed across to Sergei Gonchar on the other point, and the defenseman returned it. As the puck approached, Bondra was starting the downswing.

Rookie goalie Johan Hedberg had what appeared to be a clear view of what was about to take place, at least for an instant. Then Oates, in a great veteran move, skated left from right and screened the goalie just as Bondra completed his swing. Hedberg flinched but not much as the puck zipped into the right corner.

Earlier, it appeared that Pittsburgh might have scored at 8:31 of the first period. Jan Hrdina tapped a rebound in Kolzig's direction, the puck hit the post then the goalie's right skate before heading for the goal line. The disc was on the line but never completely crossed it; defenseman Calle Johansson stopped its progress and drew it back.

There was a lengthy delay, but finally referee Don Koharski hung the phone up and signaled no goal. It was the closest the Caps' defense allowed Pittsburgh to get.

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