Iafrate rallies Capitals past Penguins, 6-4

LANDOVER — LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals unloaded a mountai of frustration last night.

Meeting the Patrick Division-leading Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time since the Caps' collapse in the first round of the NHL playoffs last season, Washington showed a grittiness it has demonstrated rarely this season.


The Caps climbed out of a two-goal hole in the second period and beat the Penguins, 6-4.

"We're starting to feel better about ourselves," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "We're building confidence, but we've got to be very careful with it. Life is just around the corner, and it can [turn on you] pretty quick."


The Caps, unbeaten in four games (3-0-1), seem to have reached another level. On Wednesday, they were in the Patrick Division cellar. Today, at 10-12-2, they are tied for third and just three points out of second.

After falling behind, 3-1 on an even-strength goal by Mario Lemieux 43 seconds into the second period, the Caps outscored the Penguins 3-0 over the rest of the period.

Al Iafrate started the comeback when he took an outlet pass from Caps goalie Jim Hrivnak for a power-play goal that tightened the game at 3-2.

And Iafrate, with 10:21 to go in the third period, produced what would be the winning goal in front of the sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.

Pittsburgh's Kevin Stevens scored his second goal of the night with 5:42 to go, pulling the Penguins to 5-4.

But Mike Ridley scored into an open net with 19.9 seconds left to provide a comfort zone.

"This was a hot one," said Caps goalie Jim Hrivnak (22 saves). "It was a great game. In the third period we only had a few shots [nine], but we did our job. No more third-period problems. They're history."

And for one night, so was Pittsburgh. The Caps allowed just one power-play goal to the Penguins in nine chances and held Mario Lemieux to one goal and one assist.


"I think Lemieux was a factor, but we used a five-man defensive effort to stop him," said Iafrate, who had an assist in addition to the two goals. "They weren't beating us to the puck all the time, like we'd let some other teams earlier. I think we're all just playing better. We're making better decisions and we're in sync and we're not giving up crucial points."

Indeed, the Caps are scoring them. After Iafrate's second-period goal, the Caps came back with an unassisted goal by Bob Carpenter and a goal by Todd Krygier off a textbook cross-ice pass from Pat Elynuik, who had faked out Penguins goalie Tom Barrasso.

The Caps were outscored 2-1 in the first period when Pittsburgh's Stevens and Rick Tocchet (power play) each scored.

Washington and Pittsburgh will renew this series tonight (7:35) at the Civic Arena, where Murray says the Penguins will be inspired.

"The matchups we had tonight won't be there all the time in Pittsburgh," Murray said. "And they've lost two in a row now, and I think for the Stanley Cup champions that's enough to fire you up, raise you to another level or tighten things up a little bit."

NOTES: Caps captain Rod Langway attended last night's game. He said he is feeling good and will begin skating tomorrow. Langway, who is facing part-time play with the Caps, retirement or a trade, said he is keeping his options open until he is healthy. But he said he is not actively searching for another team.


Capitals tonight

Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Site: Pittsburgh Civic Arena

Time: 7:35

TV: Channel 20

Radio: WMAL (630 AM)


Outlook: This is the second game between these teams in as many nights. The Caps assigned veteran Mark Hunter to the Skipjacks yesterday. He was scoreless in seven games for the Caps this season and was not picked up on waivers. Tonight's Skipjacks game vs. Cape Breton will be the first minor-league game of Hunter's career. The 12-year NHL veteran went straight from the junior leagues to play for Montreal in 1981-82.