The Washington Capitals open the Stanley Cup playoffs tomorrow in Pittsburgh with two rookie goaltenders. One, Jim Carey, has been one of the best in the NHL, and the other, Olie Kolzig, showed Tuesday night, in a season-ending, 7-2 victory over the Penguins, that he also can get the job done.
Yesterday, coach Jim Schoenfeld had no doubts about his goaltenders.
"I think having playoff experience is a little overrated," said Schoenfeld. "Deep playoff experience is important. Knowing what it takes to win, knowing you have to play banged-up, tired and sore and then when you think you can't go any more pushing yourself to another level, that experience is valuable.
"The goaltending position is a specialized one, and the big thing for our goaltenders is to go into the game focused and not overdo it. I think if there is a danger, it is that they might overdo -- overplay a shot, not let the game come to them. But these two guys have shown a pretty good mental strength all season, so I'm really not concerned that it will be a negative factor."
Carey and Kolzig are confident.
"It's just another game to me," said Carey, 18-6-3 with a 2.13
goals-against average. "I'm not going to approach it any differently. I'll stay relaxed. I'll have my pre-game meal. I'll take a nap. I'll get up and go to the rink and play. It's pretty simple."
He doesn't watch film. He doesn't dwell on what's to come.
"It's not a thinking game, that's for sure," he said. "It's a reacting game."
Carey has 28 games in the NHL, but his teammates have no qualms about him or Kolzig.
"Jim has proved he can play . . . and Olie showed us how strong he can be," said defenseman Calle Johansson. "To me, they're just good goaltenders. They are young, but they're very calm. I think that's good. They give us confidence."
Schoenfeld noted that Kolzig took the Portland Pirates to the AHL Calder Cup title last year with all the pressure that entailed.
"And, obviously, Jimmy has won championships, too," said Schoenfeld. "It's the same here, except it's the NHL and everyone you're competing against is better."
Carey won three Massachusetts high school championships.
"I felt more pressure in high school than I ever did in college or here," said Carey. "I was so young, 14, I think. We had five or six playoff games and we played in Boston Garden. You're a kid, you can't handle that stuff. I was sick before every game -- state finals, 15,000 people, playing for my first championship.
"But I got over getting sick."
Now, he says, after having played 83 games this season (he was 30-14-11 in Portland), the prospect of four to 28 more is no big deal.
"If I approach these games the same way I have the last 28, we'll be OK," he said.
Kolzig, too, is comfortable with his backup role, but looking forward to contributing in the playoff run.
"In last year's playoffs, Schoeny [Schoenfeld] made the decision to go with Byron [Dafoe] in a game against Pittsburgh," said Kolzig, 2-8-2 with a 2.49 goals-against average. "So even though Ace [Carey] has played great this year, I've got to be ready. If anything, I know Schoeny at least has confidence in me because of the game the other night, and I'll be ready whenever he needs me."
NOTE: Buffalo's Dominik Hasek, who played 41 games, and Calgary's Rick Tabaracci, a former Capital who qualified for the standings with the minimum 13 games, each finished with league-best 2.11 goals-against averages. Carey was next at 2.13.