- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

PITTSBURGH. Johan Hedberg woke up the other day and found himself in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

He is the Penguins goalie who was picked up off the street, tin cup in tow, a couple of weeks ago.

Hedberg is not really required to do much in his present capacity, considering the opposition's conservative attack. Hedberg stands around a lot and occasionally taps the ice with his stick. Sometimes he signs autographs. Sometimes he pulls out his cell phone and talks with his friends.

Hedberg can do whatever he likes. The Caps are no threat to him. He is able to catch up on his busywork while the game is in progress. He is able to pay his bills and take care of all his personal obligations.

He probably would be working at a 7-Eleven by now if it were not for the Penguins. He probably would be concerned with things like this: "Would you like chili on your hot dog?"

Hedberg is a 27-year-old rookie. That is what has been reported anyway. But who knows? He could be 67. He is from Sweden, which has not been on top of its game since Ingmar Bergman.

Going into the series, people wondered if the Penguins were serious about starting a rookie in the net. Usually, you like your goalies to accumulate their experience in October and November. The Penguins insisted they were not joking, and people expected the worst.

A rookie in the net?

Please.

Hedberg was playing with the Buffalo Chicken Wings, or whatever the team was, before he landed at Mario Lemieux Place. This was a dream. The dream could not last, at least not against Peter Bondra and Adam Oates.

Three games into the series, Hedberg is having a blast, enjoying himself, doing his best to look busy and hard at work. He said he would work for food. He did not know it would be this easy.

The Caps always act funny around goalies at this time of the year. They see someone in a goalie mask and automatically assume it is Billy Smith. Yes, it is spring again. The Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom, and the Caps are up against another hot goalie.

Hedberg confirms that anybody can be a hot goalie against the Caps. Richard Simmons, a high-energy guy, could hold the Caps in check. You don't really have to do much. You just have to stand in front of the net, crouch at the appropriate times and act crazy.

The Caps are usually not interested in scoring, although scoring is considered to be an essential part of hockey. No one ever has won a game 0-0.

The Caps let Game 3 slip away after squandering a two-man advantage late in the second period last night.

The Caps had five guys, the Penguins three, and 1:21 to work on the rookie who was playing with the Hong Kong Egg Rolls, or whatever the team was, before coming here.

So what did the Caps do?

They posed for pictures. They fixed their hair. They did not drive the puck at Hedberg, except one time.

The Caps also pulled out a broom and started sweeping the ice. They plopped down a couple of those orange highway cones. They wanted the perfect shot instead of putting bodies in front of the net and causing mayhem.

The Caps wound up with only one shot in 1:21, which is a remarkable achievement in a way, if you have two more guys than them.

At the end, the crowd did not boo Hedberg. The crowd chanted, "Moose, Moose." Or maybe it was, "Boog, Boog." That's Boog Powell, Baltimore's Mr. Barbecue.

Anyway, that was the game right there. You have two more bodies on the ice than them, and you cannot generate an attack against a goalie who probably would be waiting tables on K Street if the Penguins had not come up with this improbable concept.

Hedberg has held the Caps to two goals in three games, his team is up 2-1 in the series, and Washington is starting to get that queasy feeling again.

Hedberg is making it look easy, subverting the pre-series logic.

Perhaps he will bring a computer to Game 4 tomorrow night and answer your questions in the NHL chat room while the Caps grind out another one.

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