- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Countless times in the past few days, the Washington Capitals have been mentioned in relationship to the ongoing Stanley Cup playoffs.

Why? The Pittsburgh Penguins have been down 3-1 in series before, as they are in the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils. Two times they came back from that deficit to win the series. And both times they did it against … Ah, why rub it in.

Of course, the Devils also know the Penguins' situation all too well. The Devils were in that predicament last year in the Eastern finals, with Philadelphia leading 3-1 as Game 5 started. Suffice it to say the Devils found a way to prevail and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"We have to go in with that fear and a healthy respect for our opponent, which we had the past two games," said defenseman Ken Daneyko, a Devil for each of his 18 NHL seasons. "The reason we are playing so strongly is because we're sacred to lose, sacred of what that team is capable of. If we think it's going to be easy, we have to shake our heads."

"There's no weakness on that team," said Mario Lemieux, the Penguins' owner and first-line center, about the Devils. "They have got a great system. That's what makes their team so much better than the other teams: They play together, and they know exactly what they are doing on the ice. It makes it tough to go against a team like that."

Normally, that would be posturing talk between opponents, but there is a lot of truth involved there. Game 5 is tonight at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J., with no guarantee there will be a need for Game 6. The Devils have a stranglehold on the series and their opponent, physically, artistically and probably psychologically.

The Penguins, with potentially one of the most explosive rosters in league history, haven't scored a goal since relatively early in the third period of Game 2, played a week ago tonight in the same building. That is a span of 134 minutes, 41 seconds in which New Jersey scored eight times and embarrassed its opponent twice in front of its home fans in Mellon Arena.

Still, that New Jersey came back from a 3-1 deficit last year reminds the Devils it could happen again.

"We don't have anything yet," Daneyko said. "[Coach Larry] Robinson made mention of that when we came to practice, to make sure we had a good one because you get nothing for three wins."

The last two New Jersey victories were so overwhelming that the possibility of a Devils letdown was a hot topic yesterday.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure that doesn't happen," said Robinson, who last year beat a trash can to death while kicking it around the team's dressing room and berating his club in a voice easily detected in neighboring states. "[I'm going] to make sure that the guys are prepared and going to be focused and play the best game of the series because that's what it's going to take."

He should know; he led the Devils to their comeback last season.

"You have to believe you have a chance," he said when asked what he was thinking a year ago. "In that series what I believed was that if we played up to our capabilities we were a much better team than what we were showing. It is one thing to say it; it is another thing to do it. I think the players bought into the fact that unless they played the way I wanted them to play, they weren't going to have a chance."


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