- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis last night expressed strong displeasure with fan turnout for the third and final playoff game at MCI Center this season and said he would be reconsidering his financial commitment to the team.
"I'm just surprised that we have this kind of important game on a weekend and we have 14,000 people attending," Leonsis said after the Caps were eliminated by Tampa Bay 2-1 in triple overtime. The Lightning won the Eastern Conference quarterfinal 4-2.
The attendance was announced as 15,269, a figure that appeared to be high by at least 2,500. While the crowd was the smallest for any of Washington's three home games, it was loud and supportive.
"They saw a helluva game," Leonsis said of the fans that showed up. "It's incredibly disappointing to have 14,000 people in the building for the final playoff game. So I think the market has spoken and I have some real re-evaluating to do on the kind of investments we're going to make in the team because the city didn't respond. You cannot have a playoff game with 14,000 people with the kind of marketing and consumer focus that we've had."
The announced attendance for the first home game on April15 was 17,279, but that was appeared to be inflated by about 2,500. A crowd of 15,576 was announced for Game4 the next night, a figure that looked to be inflated by about 1,500.
Leonsis also said he was unhappy with the treatment his team has received from Washington Sports & Entertainment, Abe Pollin's umbrella firm that schedules events at MCI Center. Leonsis and Lincoln Holdings own 44 percent of the building.
"It was heartbreaking to see 14,000 people in the building," Leonsis said. "I'm not very happy with the treatment we've gotten from the building; I don't like playing back-to-back games on Passover or an afternoon game on Easter. I'll make sure that doesn't happen again. The party's kind of over [with WS&E;], I'm just turning the other cheek. We need to be treated with respect. Even if we had won our division and had home-ice advantage, [we still] would have been playing back-to-back and that's unacceptable."
Leonsis gave a vote of confidence to rookie coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager George McPhee.
Oh no, not overtime
The Caps fell to 14-17 in playoff overtime and 0-3 in games that have gone beyond the 6:31 mark of the second overtime. At 44:03 of overtime, last night's game was the third-longest in Washington history after the quadruple-overtime losses to the New York Islanders (79:15) that ended the first round in 1987 and the Game4 loss in the first round to Pittsburgh (68:47) in 1996. Those marathons were the NHL's second- and third-longest of the past 60 years. In comparison, last night's game was only the 14th longest in 52 years.
The series was also the 12th in the Caps' 18 playoff defeats in which they have been eliminated while losing the last three or four games of a series.
Multi-sport star
Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis, who joined such previously unheralded foes as Kelly Hrudey, Petr Nedved and Johan Hedberg in Caps playoff infamy by scoring five goals in the series, including the triple-overtime game-winner last night, has a unique pregame warmup. About 90 minutes before the opening faceoff, the 5-foot-9, 181-pound St. Louis was kicking a soccer ball against a wall in the hallway outside the Tampa Bay locker room.
A soccer ball is much larger than a hockey puck, but the routine must be beneficial. With nine points in this postseason, St. Louis is the leading scorer in the Eastern Conference and tied for third overall. St. Louis finished just two points shy of the record for a player in his first playoff series. New Jersey's John MacLean had 11 in 1988 against the Islanders and Pittsburgh's Mark Recchi had 11 in 1991 against the Devils.
Comeback kids
The Lightning improved to 4-2 all time on the road in the playoffs and to 9-2-4 in their last 15 games away from home this season. Conversely, the Caps are 2-10 in their last 12 playoff games at MCI Center, 0-3 this spring. And Washington fell to 7-18 in games when it faced elimination. Four of those seven victories came in 1988. The Caps are 3-13 in elimination games since staving off defeat four times that spring.
The youthful Lightning, who have eight playoff newcomers, joined an exclusive group by rallying from a 2-0 deficit to win the series. Of the 251 teams to fall behind 2-0 in a best-of-7 series, they were just the 34th that recovered to win. And only 15 of those 34 teams did so after losing the first two games at home, as Tampa Bay did.
Tampa Bay also became the 10th Eastern Conference team and the 22nd overall since 1990 to rally from a two-game deficit and win a series. The last was New Jersey in the 2000 Eastern finals against Philadelphia. Washington has been the victim of four of those 10 Eastern collapses. The previous three came against Pittsburgh in 1992, 1995 and 1996.
Movin' up
Peter Bondra's goal was his team-high fourth in the series and it gave him 56 career playoff points, moving him past ex-teammate Michal Pivonka for third on Washington's all-time list. Retired centers Dale Hunter (72) and Mike Ridley (60) are first and second.
Caps defenseman Calle Johansson tied Pivonka yesterday by playing his 95th Caps playoff game. Johansson, who skated in six postseason games for Buffalo as a rookie in 1988, reached the 100 game milestone for his playoff career in Game5. However, the 36-year-old Johansson, who came into the game with a minus-4 rating for the series, was struggling so much to keep up with the speedy Tampa Bay skaters, that Caps coach Bruce Cassidy gave him just nine shifts in the third period and overtime. Jason Doig, 26, picked up most of what would have been Johansson's ice time.

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