- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2001

A year ago at this time the Washington Capitals were trying to find a way to stop the Pittsburgh Penguins from scoring and occasionally score a goal themselves.

There is progress to report. Half the battle is in the process of being solved maybe. The Caps have held Pittsburgh to an average of one goal in each of the first two games of the playoffs this season. But Washington is scoring at exactly the same pace, and that isn't good enough.

The Caps play in Mellon Arena tonight for Game 3 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinals, which is tied 1-1, with each team scoring two goals apiece. For Washington to have any shot at advancing to the second round, it must win at least one of the next two games in Pittsburgh or face the nearly impossible task of rebounding from a 3-1 deficit.

Washington has held Pittsburgh in check, and that was considered an awesome task in itself. But the inability to generate enough offense to create a threat against a suspect defense and a rookie goaltender is somewhat mystifying.

"Without a doubt we've got to find a way to generate some offense 5-on-5," coach Ron Wilson said. "I don't have anything to complain about except we shot ourselves in the foot offensively a few times by either missing the net or people not going to the net looking for rebounds."

At the same time, Wilson went out of his way to put credit where it appears to belong at the feet of the Pittsburgh defense, which usually is as flimsy as wet toilet paper.

"It's a lot better than it's given credit for," Wilson said. "We don't have any real liabilities back there, and I don't think they do either. All their defensemen are aggressive. They finish their body checks, and not all of our defensemen play that way. Their defense has done a good job to this point we're not getting any rebounds, we're not even getting to the front of the net. We have to figure how to penetrate their defense, how to get to the net."

Saturday the Penguins did a good job of looking like the Caps normally do. They got the puck out of their zone quickly, preventing the Caps from utilizing their forechecking game by moving the puck around the boards in a hurry. When that option wasn't available, they lobbed the puck high but not deep, thereby avoiding icing calls that would have put faceoffs close to goalie Johan Hedberg.

"They did a much better job defensively Saturday than they did in the first game," Wilson said. "Our defense has to be more assertive, more involved and follow the play more diligently so there isn't a gap so we can keep the puck alive."

Washington's offense so far has been two power-play goals by Peter Bondra. The Caps have attempted 98 shots but only 45 in two games have gotten through to Hedberg. Another 36 were blocked, and 17 were misses.

"We haven't had as much traffic in front of him or as many chances as we'd like, definitely," left wing Steve Konowalchuk said, "but we've got to stick with our game plan. We can't just abandon what we've been doing and start taking chances. We've got to play tight defense and play chip [off the boards] hockey until we can force a breakdown, then we get our chances."

Still, the Caps are a lot better off now than they were a year ago at the same time. Last season they trailed 0-2 while being outscored 9-1.

"It's pretty much even throughout the lineup, and that's what makes it so interesting," Wilson said of the matchups between lines. "Whoever blinks in the game loses. You've got to be ready and assertive. Little things are going to cost one of these teams at some point. You've got to be relentless and totally courageous all the way if you want to win this series."


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