Capitals control destiny in bid to reach playoffs


The Washington Capitals, trying for a ninth consecutive appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, have 16 games remaining, six of which are against Patrick Division foes. The Capitals, who are 7-1-3 in their past 11 home games, play 10 of their remaining 16 games at the Capital Centre.

"We have control of our destiny," said Dino Ciccarelli, the team's leading scorer, with 21 goals. "We don't have to look for help from anyone. We can do it ourselves. We've been playing really well at home lately, and I think you'd have to say we're in pretty good shape as far as the playoffs go."

Coach Terry Murray agreed. "We are battling very hard to get back into the thick of the Patrick Division race, and every game against a division opponent is a must game from here on out," he said. "We have our destiny, as far as the playoffs go, in our own hands and we won't be able to have any excuses if we don't make the playoffs.

"Right now we have to depend on our top players like Ciccarelli, Dale Hunter, Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley, John Druce, Kevin Hatcher, Al Iafrate and Calle Johanssen, but we also have to get offensive production from guys like Peter Bondra, Alan May, John Kordic and Nick Kypreos. The top guys have been stepping forward and so have the other guys. Maybe even someone from Baltimore [the Skipjacks, Washington's AHL farm club] will step up and do the job for us."

... The East Coast Hockey League, once considered the lowest othe minors, is now a burgeoning league that has teams waiting in line to get franchises.

"When you consider that 2 1/2 years ago we were begging for a sixth team, what is happening right now is very rewarding," said ECHL commissioner Pat Kelly. "We are averaging 4,036 fans a game in our league and have already gone over the 1,100,000-mark in total attendance. We have taken three new teams into the league for next year, and I think we will have a 16-team league when we start next fall."

The ECHL has awarded franchises for the 1991-92 season to the Raleigh (N.C.) Ice Caps, the Toledo Storm and Dayton Bombers. Charlotte, N.C., Charleston, W.Va., Memphis, Birmingham and Cleveland all have asked for franchises, Kelly said.

"We have two of the three top draws in minor-league hockey with the Cincinnati Cyclones averaging 7,479 a game and Hampton Roads Admirals averaging 6,571 a game," said Kelly. "The Milwaukee Admirals of the International League are the biggest draw, with more than 8,000 [8,455] a game."

The Rochester Americans are the best draw in the AHL, with 6,272 a game, and the Hershey Bears are next, at 5,204.

... Five teams in each division will get into the AHL Calder Cuplayoffs this season instead of the usual four.

After the season ends March 31, the fourth- and fifth-place teams will play a two-game series in the rink of the fourth-place team April 2 and 3. If each team wins one game, a sudden-death period will be played to determine the mini-series winner. The winner will advance to a seven-game series against the No. 1 team.

... Former Capitals captain Bengt Gustafsson scored the winning goal as Sweden beat Czechoslovakia, 4-2, in a four-nation tournament championship game. Gustafsson was assisted by former Montreal Canadiens star Mats Naslund, now playing for Swiss Lugano, and two other ex-NHL stars, Hakan Loob and Tomas Jonsson. The Soviet Union and Poland also competed.

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