LANDOVER -- The hour grew late and, after throwing everything but the Taft-Hartley Act at former teammate and goalie Don Beaupre, the game was scoreless between the Washington Capitals and Ottawa Senators.
For more than 50 minutes the Caps peppered shots at Beaupre, about half of them classified as "prime scoring opportunities." A PSO is when a goalie has to do something other than stand there and have the puck bounce off him. When he lets one of these babies in, rarely is he held at fault.
"Going in," said Washington winger Peter Bondra, "we knew Donnie would have a good game against us; he'd be hot. He was everywhere."
Everywhere, that is, until Bondra, sent on alone on goal by an excellent give-and-go play by Michal Pivonka, sent the Caps' 30th and last shot of the evening past Beaupre. It was the 1-0 winners' 15th prime scoring opportunity and came with about seven minutes remaining.
The reason the Capitals were able to press so relentlessly throughout was back minding their net at the other end of the rink. Rookie phenom Jim Carey ran his record to 9-1-1 since taking over in goal three weeks ago and the shutout was the second in two days, third in five games and would have been his fourth had not one of his mates caused the only New York Rangers' goal in a 4-1 victory Saturday night.
"It's Carey's demeanor," says coach Jim Schoenfeld, who swears you could never sense what's going on in a game if you had to rely on the kid's reactions. "Bad game, good game, bad goal, it's always the same with him. He's always very composed."
What's this "bad game" Schoenfeld made reference to? "In practice, once," he explained.
If the 20-year-old, who would be finishing his sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin if he wasn't the current rage of the NHL, is cool on ice, he seems fully as unaffected in the locker room afterward.
He seems almost apologetic while explaining the call-up from the AHL Portland Pirates to the parent club was "the perfect opportunity for me. They called me and said I was going to play immediately. I felt I was ready because I had already played almost an entire season in the minors [30-14-11 record with a 2.76 goals-against average in the AHL].
"The opportunity was there and I knew I had to take advantage of it because they don't come around too often."
Bondra, who raised his team-leading goal total to 15, pointed out the irony of Carey's picking up a victory at the expense of the veteran goalie Beaupre, who was turning in a monster performance himself.
"We traded Beaupre to give the young guys a chance and Olie [Kolzig], [Rick] Tabaracci and [Byron] Dafoe had theirs," he said. "Finally, Jim just took things in his own hands."
While outscoring the opposition 35-16 over the last 11 games, five of those goals coming in the kid's only loss, the Caps have shown much more confidence on the attack, knowing Carey's back there guarding the goal like Bill Russell used to do for the Boston Celtics.
In this game at least, Washington had to keep from becoming frustrated as Beaupre continually kicked out its absolute best efforts.
"You can't allow yourself to get frustrated," said Schoenfeld. "You have to make it work for you and become more determined.
"That's how it was on the bench, all the guys talking it up and saying, 'Hey, it's only going to take one.' There was no focus on overtime or a tie even when it was getting late, and no one thought we'd lose it."
Not with Mr. Carey back there anyway. "Thing about Jim," said Bondra, "is he's always where he's supposed to be. That makes it easier for the rest of us to do what we're supposed to do."
Ottawa (4-19-4) had only seven shots in the first two periods and none in the first 15 minutes of the second. Carey could have knocked off a couple of chapters if he had thought to bring a book along.
Then, out of the blue, a quick turnaround in the neutral zone found Pivonka just about to be assaulted inside the blue line as a second Senator moved in for the kill. The Caps veteran turned, fed a backward pass out in front of Bondra and it was time for the red light to go on and the siren to go off.
Actually, it was probably a good thing the feed wasn't to Kelly Miller. With just seconds to go and Beaupre off the ice for a sixth attacker, the alternate captain took a shot at the net from about 60 feet and missed. He laughed about it afterward.
That's the way it goes when a team moves into a fourth-place tie in the 14-team conference when a month ago it was in 13th and showing no signs of life.