The Capitals, getting two goals from Peter Bondra and one from John Druce, and superb goaltending from Don Beaupre, defeated the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, before 16,689 at the Capital Centre.
"We came out hard and played with such intensity that we were a little tight," said Druce. "Once we loosened up, we got rolling and kept up the pressure.
"On my goal [the game-winner], Calle Johansson passed me the puck on the boards. I cut into the circle and threw the puck at the goal. [Pittsburgh goalie Tom] Barrasso went down a little early and the puck went over him.
"We took over in the third period. We did a lot of hitting and took Pittsburgh out of their game," he added. "Beaupre played great. Hopefully, we can keep this going."
Bondra said: "I thought I played well. Before the game I was nervous, but I scored a goal and felt more comfortable. We played pretty well as a team. We made some big hits and made sure we took the body."
Beaupre had 32 saves, many from close range, as he frustrated the Penguins most of the game.
"Beaupre was excellent," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "He is well-focused. He knows his responsibilities, and tonight he handled them well.
"The win was the result of a lot of hard work. We got a lot of good play from a lot of people," added Murray. "All four lines were effective. The fourth line did a good job of forechecking, and that resulted in Druce's goal. Druce forechecked with a lot of authority. We can do a lot of things if we continue to play like this. This is the time of the year when the intensity steps up and some players tend to take the spotlight; others tend to shy away from it."
Pittsburgh, playing without the NHL's leading scorer, center Mario Lemieux, who is out with an injured shoulder, took 33 shots on goal and Beaupre stopped every one but one in the second period by Troy Loney.
"The playoffs, that's what you play all season for," said Lemieux.
"Missing a playoff game is disappointing to everyone. It's just a matter of getting my strength back in the shoulder. I'll probably play in the next game."
"We anticipated that Lemieux would play and we prepared accordingly," said Murray. "The fact that Lemieux is out does not make our job any easier. Pittsburgh has many explosive offensive players."
The Capitals, who face the Penguins in Game 2 tomorrow at 7:35 p.m. at the Capital Centre, scored two goals in the second period, by Bondra and Druce, and Bondra scored an insurance goal at 17:52 of the third period, converting a pretty pass from Al Iafrate.
Iafrate said: "We played a good defensive game. Beaupre made some big saves and we buried our chances when we had them. They outplayed us a little bit early, but we turned it on in the third period and got the win."
"It was an even game," said Penguins coach Scotty Bowman. "We'll have to fight through Washington's checks a little better to get back into this [the series]. There was a lot of in-fighting going on.
"Both goaltenders played strongly. We didn't get any power plays other than that one in the third period. We played without our top scorer, but that is no excuse. No one can anticipate what will happen in the second game based on the results of the first game. It could prove very difficult for them [the Capitals] or be easier for them. We'll just have to see what we can do."
Washington's defense did an excellent job, not only five-on-five, but also during a four-minute power play midway through the third period when the Capitals had a one-goal lead. The tough defense limited the Penguins to three shots in the four minutes.
"Killing the four-minute power play was a key thing for us," said Murray. "It was an excellent piece of hard work in which we limited Pittsburgh's time and space."