- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2001

This was the situation: Washington needed very badly to beat Pittsburgh. Entering the last 10 minutes of the third period, the Capitals had a 3-1 lead only to see the Penguins claw their way back in with two power-play goals.

Starting to sound familiar? Washington won the game 4-3, when Jeff Halpern scored the winner. Now you got it, right?

Wrong.

The scenario took place March 7 in Mellon Arena, giving the Caps a 2-2 split of the regular-season series. It was remarkably similar to what took place at Mellon on Wednesday night, except that Halpern's scored the second winner in overtime.

"They scored two late power-play goals in the second half of the third period [of both games]," Caps coach Ron Wilson said yesterday as he watched minor leaguers and scratches practice at Piney Orchard. "Although we didn't finish them off in regulation [Wednesday], we managed to get the job done. I don't care how we won as long as we managed to find a way."

In four games against Pittsburgh this season, Halpern added three goals to the one he scored last season as a rookie. All of his nine playoff games have been against the Penguins; he has three goals and five points.

"I don't know if it's just growing up in Washington and seeing enough of [Pittsburgh] his whole life, but the last two years he seems to play unbelievable against these guys. He's an unbelievable competitor, and for the playoffs he raises it another level," said linemate Steve Konowalchuk, who had two goals and an assist Wednesday night as the Caps tied their playoff series with the Penguins at 2-2, basically converting the best-of-7 series into a best-of-3 with Washington owning home ice. Game 5 is tomorrow at MCI Center.

Halpern is the only plus player (plus-1) defensively for Washington as he and his line have done a remarkable job keeping Mario Lemieux's line (Jan Hrdina and Jaromir Jagr) within reasonable bounds.

"Defensively, they've been outstanding in terms of not being on the ice for any goals-against, which was their primary assignment coming into this series," Wilson said.

"I kidded Jeff [Tuesday] a little bit about not having a shot on goal, and the one time he had a great opportunity the other night his stick broke. It was the exact same play where Ulf Dahlen keeps it alive, Steve Konowalchuk strips the guy and Jeff was in the high slot. That was a great shot [Wednesday]. It was harrowing in overtime because you see Jagr driving wide and beating a defenseman and getting in there."

Under Wilson, if you're having a good night, you get a lot of ice time. If not, you get a lot of pine time. Captain Adam Oates is not having a good postseason. He is minus-3 defensively, has four shots, has no points and occasionally loses a key draw, his normal strong point (he led the league before last night's games).

On Wednesday night, Oates struggled in the first period when he played five shifts for 5:37; in the second period, he played just four shifts for 2:52, and that was it his night was over. He is averaging just over 15 minutes a game in postseason, about eight minutes fewer than in the regular season.

Oates is not alone. Wing Dmitri Khristich played four shifts in the first, five more in the second, and his night was over. Sergei Gonchar has been bounced around like a pingpong ball, and his ice time is also suffering. He played less than 15 minutes, less than three minutes of it after the second period.

Notes Halpern, Ken Klee, Dainius Zubrus and Rob Zettler have not been on the ice for an even-strength goal-against… . Brendan Witt's goal in the third period Wednesday night was his first career power-play goal… . Calle Johansson's next point will give him 53 in his career and tie him with Scott Stevens for most in the career of a Caps defenseman… . The Caps are 7-14 in Game 5s… .

The average overnight rating of 3.07 on Comcast SportsNet for Wednesday's Caps game shattered the previous local viewership record for any Caps game by 44 percent. The rating translates to an audience of more than 60,000 Washington-area households. The previous high for a Caps game came May 9, 1998, when WBDC-TV (Channel 50) posted a 2.1 rating for a conference semifinal game against Ottawa.

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