Pivonka's idea gets Caps a point


LANDOVER -- Michal Pivonka had a better idea yesterday afternoon and the result was that the Washington Capitals emerged from their showdown with the Philadelphia Flyers with a 2-2 tie.

"I'm going to make him assistant coach," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "He designed the play."

Pivonka had been facing off against the Flyers' Craig MacTavish all afternoon. He noticed that whenever he lost the draw, the puck invariably scooted out to MacTavish's forehand, which meant that Pivonka wanted someone with a left-handed shot along the boards. Dimitri Khristich, a right-handed shot, usually plays left wing with Pivonka and Peter Bondra.

Pivonka's Play, executed so perfectly, had left shot Dale Hunter -- one of six attackers after the Caps pulled goalie Jim Carey with 33 seconds left -- on the backside of the left circle in the Flyers' zone.

Just as Pivonka predicted, the puck came to Hunter off the faceoff, and Hunter sent a pass across the crease to an unattended Bondra.

Flyers goalie Ron Hextall never had a chance, and Bondra tied the game with 10.9 seconds left in the third period.

"The puck came right to my stick, and I look up and see 'Bonzai' wide open," said Hunter. "I'm looking for the hot guy, and he's wide open."

It was Pivonka's Play that wiped out the Flyers' 2-1 lead -- forged with goals by Chris Therien and Mikael Renberg -- that had stood up since 1:39 into the second period.

It was Pivonka's Play that made the long-distance slap shot by Joe Juneau, who scored with 17:56 gone in the first period, mean something.

And it was Pivonka's Play that never should have been allowed, according to Flyers coach Terry Murray.

"The puck never touched the ice on the faceoff," said Murray. "The official should have blown his whistle right then and had a new faceoff."

MacTavish and Pivonka agreed the puck never hit the ice.

"It went off my stick," said MacTavish.

"But we were so close together, with our heads over it, there is no way the official could have seen that," Pivonka said. "We could barely see it."

And referee Terry Gregson didn't see it.

"I see the puck go down, and the next thing I know it's on the Washington Capital's stick," Gregson said. "If it didn't hit the ice and I had seen it, why wouldn't I stop the play? In the action of the play, I did not see that there was a problem with the faceoff. If they've got replay and they've analyzed it, I'm sure they're more correct than I am."

Such faceoffs probably happen 50 percent of the time, but in this abbreviated season, the race for postseason playoff spots is so tight that no one can afford to lose a point that way.

So, there was reason for frustration on the Flyers' side of the ice, after this game that looked like a victory in the making suddenly turned sour.

"Gave two points away," said center Eric Lindros, who was the Flyer who left Bondra wide open.

"Things happen so quick," he said. "It's a reaction. And, unfortunately, we ended up with the wrong reaction."

The Capitals made the right decisions. They are 9-1-2 over their past 12 games, as they prepare to meet the Hartford Whalers here this afternoon with 18 games left.

And after they held the most productive offensive team in the Atlantic Division to two goals, it might be time to start believing in the Capitals.

They have the Eastern Conference's stingiest defense, and yesterday, despite facing the big Lindros, Renberg, John LeClair line that had five points in the game, the Capitals looked for real.

"We're a gutsy team," said Caps forward Craig Berube, who played in his 500th NHL game and drew a roughing penalty against Philadelphia by refusing to drop his stick and fight. "This was the most physical game we've played all year, and we stood up to it. We hit. We competed. And we showed we're coming together as a team. I think we're starting to care about each other and that shows in how we're playing on the ice."

The Capitals kept themselves in the game with relentless hard work -- demonstrating hard checking, stand-up defense at the blue line and solid goaltending by Carey (20 saves) -- until Pivonka came up with the idea that put the team in position to tie.

"Lindros forgot me," said Bondra. "I don't know why. And then Huntsy made a nice play to me. I had a lot of chances. Maybe I should have had two goals, not one. But Hextall [24 saves] played good, and I finally did get one, a big one that mattered and we have one more point. A good point."

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