- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

PITTSBURGH Washington 4, Pittsburgh 1.

Please return to the first paragraph and read it again. This is not a misprint. This is not some cruel gimmick being used to divert your attention from a miserable snow storm about to descend on the fair Capital district.

The woebegone Capitals scored four times and held the highflying Penguins, long-time tormentors of the Washington entry in the NHL, to one very late score by one M. Lemieux (truth be known, his 51st all-time against the Caps).

The Penguins who flew the coop had something to do with the victory, which few teams needed as badly as the Caps last night. Jaromir Jagr had a goal, Robert Lang had a goal, even Rick Berry had an assist.

Pittsburgh had been unbeaten in five against Washington and had won three straight in the Igloo. The Caps had lost two straight overall, they had been 2-7-1 in their last 10 and were 1-6-2 in their last nine on the road. No team in the league needed a confidence booster more than Washington.

Besides Jagr and Lang, Washington got goals from Ivan Ciernik and Jeff Halpern.

"I think it was our best game of the season from start to finish," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "The consistence was there for 60 minutes. What I liked was we played as 5-man units from start to finish, no one branched off and decided they were going to put themselves above the team. The goal they got, we would have loved to get [Olie Kolzig] a shutout but it was a 3-on-3 and it was a good play. But to give up that few scoring chances [17 shots] and to stay out of the [penalty] box, that's what we needed. They played hard and won a lot of the battles."

There have been times recently when Washington seemed intent on embarrassing itself but last night there was none of that. The team worked like it wanted to erase a lot of embarrassment.

"I would say so," Cassidy said. "I've said all along there's a lot of pride in the room. At some point you have to start to hate losing or hate to be talked about as an underachiever. I know I feel that way and I know the players do, the ones who have been here a long time and enjoyed success. These guys have been to the finals. But this was just one game, it's a tough building for the Caps to win in and hopefully you're looking for turning point. Maybe this will be it."

Washington was by far the more aggressive team right from the start. Every available statistic would have predicted just the opposite and perhaps that is exactly what Pittsburgh was counting on.

Ciernik, called up little more than a week ago, got it started by being in the right place at the right time and by playing it smart. Goalie Johan Hedberg rejected a shot by Ken Klee but the rebound came out deep into the slot. Ciernik sent it back in, shooting around some of the Pittsburgh players screening their own goalie at 8:46.

Five minutes later, with boos cascading down from the 11,640 on hand, Jagr tried to center the puck through the crease to where Michael Nylander was standing on the right side of the net. Instead, his pass glanced off Marc Bergevin's left skate and straight past Hedberg.

Pittsburgh was outshot 12-6 in the period but the Penguins had chances. Pittsburgh had the only two power plays of period but the league's top-ranked unit got only one shot on Kolzig, who was showing no signs that he was adversely affected by taking a hard slapshot to the head Sunday afternoon in Atlanta.

Washington extended its lead by another goal in the second period when Lang was credited with a goal that got a big boost from Hedberg. Lang came in and fired a hard drive at the goalie but Hedberg kicked it back out where the center could get it. He did and directed another shot at Hedberg from a very bad angle. It would have missed but the goalie got his stick up and the puck rocketed in off the shaft of Hedberg's stick.

It was the first time Hedberg had lost to Washington during the regular season. He had a 3-0-2 record against the Caps entering the game.

Notes Rick Berry, a former Penguin, got his first point of the season last night, assisting on Jagr's goal in the first period. Also assisting on that score was Jason Doig, a point in his first NHL game of the season. Michael Nylander's point streak has extended to eight games (6-11-17) while Ciernik's point streak has reached six games (2-7-7). It's long been said in Pittsburgh that Jagr couldn't sell tickets here by himself. Based on last night's crowd, the smallest in three years, Lemieux isn't very good at selling tickets, either.

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