Capitals follow the numbers to 10th straight playoff berth


LANDOVER -- In the end, it looked like a rip, the Washington Capitals with five goals and the New York Islanders with two. But this was far from one of those let's-get-this-late-season-game-out-of-the- way affairs.

For one thing, the Caps' 40th win of the campaign (40-24-7) proved a treasure chest for the statistically-minded. For instance:

* It cinched postseason play for the Capitals for the 10th straight season, longest streak in the Patrick Division.

* The winning goal was scored by Mike Ridley, No. 200 in his eight-year career.

* The winning goalie was Don Beaupre, his 200th victory going back a dozen years.

* And Dino Ciccarelli had a goal, first in nearly a month for the old lamplighter.

Away from the numbers, though, it had bemn an experience(a coach likes to see: his team down and facing a couple of bad breaks and adversity and simply pushing on until the job was done.

After losing a game he's convinced the Caps should have won Saturday in Philadelphia, coach Terry Murray was wary when the Islanders came back from a two-goal deficit to square matters heading into the final 20 minutes.

"We started the third period leading the Flyers and should have been able to hold them off and now here we were losing a two-goal lead against a team fighting for a playoff spot," he said. "I was concerned we might lay back and play conservatively."

Along the way, the Caps had lost a goal, but shook it off, barely arguing the questionable interpretation of a rule by referee Dan Marouelli. No problem, they(went after the visitors in the third period as if the Stanley Cup would go home with the winner.

After just a minute, Ridley, from an impossible angle, "just threw the puck on nmt because all kinds of weird things happen when you do that . . . and the goal proved it." It ricocheted in off goalie Chris Terreri's skate.

Perhaps remembering how a safety-first axproach has hurt them of late, the Caps kept pressing and, voila, for one brief sojourn down the ice, Ciccarelli resembled the veteran who has 435 career goals to his credit.

"It wasn't a typical Ciccarelli goal, and I'm not going to make a career out of goals like that," he noted of the open-ice screamer from 40 feet. "The important thing was to get(the slump out on the way.

"I hate to describe myself as a streak scorer, but I guess I am. Several times over the years I've gone eight or 10 games without a goal, then got a bunch in a hurry. Maybe this will get me on a roll I can carry into the playoffs."

Beaupre's reaction to his 200th triumph (as opposed to 179 losses) was subdued: "You look at it and think back how many more you could have or should have had."

For the time being at least, the goalie is looking forward to the team moving toward improved consistency over the last 10 games of the season culminating in a peaking for postseason play.

"The last couple of years," he reminded, "we had to be playing our best just to make the playoffs. Now that we're in, I hope we don't slip back and relax. I was a little upset when we let the Islanders back in the game today."

The remaining schedule appmars as if it was authored by Murray or is an answer to the prayers of Caps general manager David Poile. The team has six straight games at home, beginning with a meeting with the St. Louis Blues tomorrow night, with eight practice days sprinkled in.

Five points behind the New York Rangers for top spot in the division and for the entire league, the gang still harbors hope for the overall title and home-ice advantage throughout the tournament. Otherwise, second place is in the bank.

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