PITTSBURGH -- Reverting to the counter-attacking style that has long marked their successes over the years, the Washington Capitals cruised to a 7-2 victory last night over the Pittsburgh Penguins to take a 3-1 lead in their Patrick Division playoff series.
Far from conservative, but disciplined and controlled in their play, the Capitals moved to a 2-0 lead in the first 7:22, then sat back and waited for the Penguins to self-destruct on mistakes. They were more than equal to the task.
Meanwhile, there was Dino Ciccarelli to pick up loose and errant pucks all game, slipping them past anyone Pittsburgh decided to put in the goal.
Ciccarelli scored four times, which, he said, "was nice. But you can't get too excited about it before you have to go right back at it in another day or so."
Game 5 will be played at the Capital Centre tomorrow (7:35 p.m.).
"We've still got some work to do," Ciccarelli said. "They have character over there [the Penguins' locker room]; they proved that last year when they won it all."
A goal late in the first period and another early in the third had Washington cruising, 4-0, before the Penguins got on the board. Mario Lemieux scored for the defending Stanley Cup champs, but the Capitals got it back immediately on Peter Bondra's fourth goal.
Pittsburgh's second goal, by Bryan Trottier, was followed by the third and fourth by Ciccarelli.
With just over six minutes remaining, Bryan Trottier got the final goal for the Penguins.
Ciccarelli's goal put Washington up by two goals early. The Capitals played completely relaxed thereafter. He put the Capitals up 4-0 in the third period.
He had two more goals, giving him five for the series and four for the evening.
Ken Wregget replaced Tom Barrasso in the Penguins goal after the first period and was charged with Washington's last four scores.
Washington goalie Don Beaupre got his confidence back up to 100 percent with his strong showing.
"Things worked out well," Beaupre said, "because I had a tough save early to get me going, and, after getting the lead early, we kept on going tonight."
After beating the Penguins in five of seven during the regular season and holding a 3-1 playoff advantage, Beaupre said he and his teammates are confident playing against the explosive Penguins, but not to the point of being cocky.
"We've had the feeling we can beat them all along, and that helps a lot. At the same time, we know we've got to play well," he said.
Said the Capitals' Kelly Miller, "Unlike the last game, this was a hockey game." The reference was to Thursday night's game, when there were 23 power plays compared to a half-dozen last night.
NOTES: The Capitals' game plan was fairly simple last night, captain Rod Langway said: "If we take fewer penalties, we'll be OK and we'll see less of Mario." . . The winners of the Stanley Cup will receive $37,000 per man, a 50 percent raise over last year. Losing team players get $25,000, which matches what the victorious Penguins got last year. . . . The Penguins' Scotty Bowman moves out of a tie with Dick Irvin tomorrow night at the Capital Centre for coaching the most playoff games, 191. Bowman holds the record for wins with 115.