Penguins discover Ciccarelli's battered body is the major Capitals' improvement


Just as there's a broken heart for every broken bulb on Broadway, chances are there's a welt, a bruise, a laceration or a stitch for everything good Dino Ciccarelli has done for the Washington Capitals during their playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And from the looks of Dino -- he currently resembles Jake LaMotta after 14 tough rounds against Sugar Ray Robinson -- it's obvious he's done a lot of good things.

You've heard the expression "Take one for the club?" Ciccarelli has taken one, two or three every time he's left the Washington bench to skate a 90-second shift.

Long before Dino scored four goals leading the Caps to a 7-2 victory Saturday night in Pittsburgh, giving the club a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series, coach Terry Murray noted, "He's excited. It's playoff time; Dino's time of year."

Name an all-pest team and Ciccarelli's on it. Start listing the NHL players most disliked by the opposition and Dino's first string. He'd be named captain of the all-annoying team by acclimation.

"My game is to be feisty and to get in there and forecheck hard," he says. Hell, so what if some of these guys are giants, a guy uses his 5-10 and 175 pounds right and he can move mountains.

For instance, the other night Dino was matched up against the Samuelssons, nasty Kjell, measuring 6-6 and 235 pounds, and nastier Ulf, only 6-1 and 195. Singularly or collectively, it was a mismatch. Ciccarelli had them as an appetizer.

Assessing his team's dominant role heading into the possible series clincher at the Capital Centre tonight (7:35), Dino thought back to Game 4: "I think the five-on-three goal was the key goal of the night. When you get a good early lead, the other team's going to play more aggressively, and they tend to get away from what usually works for them."

Notice, he made no reference to his goals, Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 7 in the romp. It wasn't as though the 12-year-veteran wasn't spectacularly involved in the goal that gave Wash

ington a 3-0 lead in the first 20 minutes, however.

Todd Krygier and Dino had given the Caps a two-goal head start inside the first eight minutes and Pittsburgh had had its offensive ego dealt a severe blow when Washington easily handled them during a five-minute power play.

The major penalty had been handed out to Dale Hunter when, approaching Ulf from the blindside, he leaped up in the air and leveled him with an elbow to the face. Perhaps it should be mentioned here that the next few paragraphs contain thoughts and facts that may not be suitable for youthful consumption.

Parental guidance is advised.

Anyway, Ulf went down as if pole-axed. A slight smile could be detected on Hunter's face as he headed for the penalty box. One source said a couple of the Penguin players smiled, too, but this could not be confirmed. Ulf, you see, also has a spot reserved on the all-despised team.

It was about seven minutes later, Ulf had regained his senses and was proceeding up ice when Ciccarelli approached. "He know I was going to hit him and up came his stick. It caught me in the cheek," Dino said proudly. Not only was Samuelson sent off on a five-minute major for drawing blood, the accompanying game misconduct penalty excused him from further aggravation.

"I've tried to play him aggressively in this series, but I know that he knows he can't take penalties. When he got me, it really paid off for us," said Dino. But not immediately.

The Caps weren't having much success with a man advantage, so Ciccarelli went down and set up shop in front of the Penguin net. Kjell Samuelsson, 6-6 and 235, remember, couldn't move Dino, 5-10 and 175, until he laid a stick across his back. The resulting cross-checking penalty gave Washington a 5-on-3 advantage, which they turned into a goal and a 3-0 lead.

"The game was won in that first period," Penguin coach Scotty Bowman was forced to admit afterward. Bowman changed his goalie. He experimented with different attacking lines. He had to move a forward back to defense when his blue-line corps got down to four. The all-time winning playoff coach (115 victories) seemed to be wondering where his next move was coming from.

Here, no doubt, is where Dino has had further effect. He and the Pittsburgh coach have been yapping at each other for more than a week now. The player says, "There's always a lot of talking back and forth during the playoffs. It's an intense time and fuses are shorter.

"It's meaningless, though, just something to give you guys [the press] something to write about. It's unusual that you get a coach involved."

Bowman denies that Dino has gotten beneath his skin, of course, but just mention the name Ciccarelli and steam shoots out of both ears. He stammers. Scotty talks about his defending Stanley Cup champions coming into tonight's game "focused on just trying to get back [to Pittsburgh] for a sixth game."

Meanwhile, Dino looked at his four goals and seemed unimpressed. "One, he [the goalie] got a piece of and it could have gone wide as well as gone in the net. Another ricocheted in off a post. Lucky bounces," he said.

This was Ciccarelli's way of not wanting to get "too excited, because you have to go back at it in a day or so."

Yes, it will be a whole new game tonight, but Ciccarelli's history is that, when he's got it going, he plays like a guy who gets proper reward for his effort. And looking at a head that includes a slash on the left eyebrow, a divot beside his right eye, a nasty nine-inch scratch along his neck, a lengthy scrape on his left cheek and a rip from his lip to his chin, he might not have received full payment yet.

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