- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

PENGUINS 4, CAPS 3

PITTSBURGH Martin Straka has added his name to the pantheon of opponents who have broken the hearts of the Washington Capitals in the playoffs. Straka, who hadn't scored in the series, stole the puck from Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar at the Washington blue line and beat goalie Olie Kolzig with a high backhand 13:04 into overtime to give the Pittsburgh Penguins a dramatic 4-3 victory and the Eastern Conference quarterfinal 4-2 last night at Mellon Arena.
The third-seeded Caps had rallied to forge ties from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 but ultimately fell to the sixth-seeded Penguins for the sixth time in their seven postseason meetings during the last 11 seasons. Other than its surprise trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 1998, Washington has advanced past the first round just once since 1991.
"That's a lousy way to lose a game like that," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "They got the lucky bounce in overtime. It certainly leaves you with an empty feeling. If we had somehow been able to win, I don't know how much Pittsburgh would have left [for what would have been Game 7 tonight at MCI Center] because they were really huffing and puffing there."
Straka had 27 goals during the season but had yet to put the puck in the net during the series until the overtime.
"The guys told me that [Kolzig] had been going down on every shot, so I just tried to get the puck up," Straka said.
Said Kolzig: "The pass came back to Gonch. He was stickhandling with it, and the ice was just so atrocious. I could just see the puck bouncing all over the place. Straka, if he gets a step on you, he's gone. He's one of the fastest guys in the league. I thought I had him solved all series long. What a time for him to beat me."
Washington played hard in the third period, but for a long time it did not appear it would get the goal it needed against rookie goalie Johan Hedberg.
"Hedberg played solid all series long," Kolzig said. "For a first-timer who had only nine games going, he played with a cool head. He was really rock-solid for them."
But with less than three minutes left in regulation, the Caps stormed the net and Steve Konowalchuk got a loose puck back into the left faceoff circle and out of Pittsburgh's hands. Defenseman Calle Johansson gloved the puck out of the air, and it dropped at his feet. He whacked at it, and it sailed into a crowd in front of the goalie. Hedberg made a stab at it, but it zipped past and the Caps had new life.
Washington played kickball with the puck at 7:21 of the first while supposedly killing a penalty. Mario Lemieux finished the play by wrapping a backhand around Kolzig and into the open side, making Washington look foolish on the play.
Less than two minutes later Andy Ference rocked the puck loose with a heavy hit, starting a 2-on-1 break by Aleksey Morozov and Robert Lang. The attackers swept around the Caps they didn't run over, and Lang placed a perfect shot over Kolzig's left shoulder for a 2-0 lead.
"I was a little worried when it was 2-0 bang bang, but we righted ourselves in the second period," Wilson said.
Early in the second period play disintegrated so much on both sides that it appeared even the officials lost interest. Then one of those breaks the Caps kept saying never came their way did.
Actually, it was two breaks. The first started when irritating defenseman Darius Kasparaitis tried to drive a hard-around out of the zone. It came to light-scoring defenseman Brendan Witt at the left point. He did the only thing he could, blindly sweeping the puck back into the zone in the general direction of Hedberg.
The second break came split seconds after Witt drove the puck into the zone. Kasparaitis reached out and tipped it, meaning to send it away from the net but instead deflecting it past his goalie at 14:07.
"I'm just relieved we got a goal. I didn't care how it went in," Kolzig said of Witt's goal that brought Washington to within 2-1. "It seemed to get us going a bit."
Washington was energized. Straka took a high-sticking penalty at 15:32, and four seconds before it expired Jeff Halpern lifted a chip shot over Hedberg's shoulder and into the top left corner, tying the game.
But in trying to go for the kill in the minutes that followed, the Caps were caught in their own excitement, and it was costly. First, Andrei Nikolishin took a penalty at 18:31. Then Ken Klee took another with 38 seconds to go on the first infraction with eight seconds left in the period.
It took Alexei Kovalev just seven seconds to regain the lead for Pittsburgh. With Straka screening in front and the Caps down a pair, Kovalev drove a long slap shot past the screen and through Kolzig's legs for a 3-2 lead heading into the third period.

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