- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

PITTSBURGH Is this Johan Hedberg, a 27-year-old pickup from the International Hockey League, the next Ken Dryden?

That remains to be seen, but if the Pittsburgh Penguins goalie continues to put up the numbers that he has produced in the first three games against the Washington Capitals, they might start putting up statues of him back home in Sweden some time soon.

The Caps are taking nothing away from Hedberg but privately they put the blame on themselves for their current plight. They admit that Hedberg has played well but not sensational.

Pittsburgh scored twice in the third period last night to put the game out of reach and rolled past Washington 3-0 to take a 2-1 lead over the Caps in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Washington has now gone nearly 111 minutes without scoring a goal and has yet to score an even-strength goal this playoff season.

The shutout was the first in the NHL for Hedberg, who was acquired in a trade deadline deal on March 12 from San Jose. Hedberg was playing for Manitoba in the International Hockey League and posted a record of 7-1-1 since he was called up by the Penguins.

"Once they made it 2-0 we had to open it up a bit to try to score," said Washington goalie Olie Kolzig, who held his team in the game until the flood gates opened. "Whether it was 3-0 or 8-0 doesn't matter, we had to try to score and get some back and when you do that against that team, that's when they get their chances. My hat's off to their defense and Hedberg, they did a super job again."

Hedberg has allowed two goals in three games two power play goals by Peter Bondra, one in each of the first two games. Other than that, he has been perfect, but he has had a lot of help. The Penguins have been doing some very un-Penguin-like things, such as playing defense for 60 minutes and playing it very well.

But the Caps have been contributing to Hedberg's success, also. They have failed repeatedly to drive to the net even when golden opportunities were present; they have played without drive; they have played timid and indecisive hockey around the opposition's net, and, most importantly, they have failed to create a traffic problem in front of the goalie.

The result has been that Hedberg has been able to see virtually all the shots he has been required to stop. The one time he was truly tested last night came 8:40 into the second period of what was then a scoreless game. Steve Konowalchuk had him dead-to-rights in the slot, but the left wing had to hurry his shot, a backhand, and he fired straight into the goalie. Hedberg made the stop and at that point it seemed the Penguins felt they were bulletproof.

Forty-four seconds later, Kevin Stevens scored the game-winner when he ripped a perfect shot into the top left corner. Alexei Kovalev and Jan Hrdina scored in the third period.

Washington still trailed by only a goal when it was handed a golden gift a two-man advantage for 1:21 late in the second period, an eternity in playoff hockey.

The prime opportunity was like sounding a false alarm, because nothing happened. For 81 seconds the Caps played very tentative, indecisive hockey. One shot got through to Hedberg but there was no traffic in front to make it difficult for him to see what was coming.

"It was a difficult point in the game, no question about it," wing Trevor Linden said. "You get one there and you change the whole dynamics of the game. But we have to beat this guy early in the game. He's confident, he's playing well and let's give him credit, he's doing the job."

But, Linden said, getting to the heart of the matter, "Certainly we have to start finding the back of the net, people like myself. We have to start contributing in that area. We have to just keep doing what we're doing and hopefully we'll break through."

Pittsburgh came to Washington to open the series and got a split. The Caps must now do the same thing in Pittsburgh or the hole the club will have dug might well be far too deep to climb out of.

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