Penguins pay back Caps, 5-3

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins turned the tables on the Washington Capitals last night, overcoming a two-goal deficit to win Game 2, 5-3, and even this best-of-seven Eastern Conference playoff series at one game apiece.

Down 3-1 going into the third period and in danger of falling behind the Capitals by two games, the Penguins struck like lightning for three goals in the first 4:09 of the final period for a 4-3 lead that would stand up for the victory.

Kevin Stevens' power-play goal with 15:40 to play clinched the win and ended a losing streak that had stood at three games at the end of the regular season and was stretched to four in Game 1.

"Game 1 was a wake-up call for us," said Stevens. "Our intensity level wasn't there before the playoffs, but we knew we had to do it in the playoffs. Being up 3-1 in Game 1 and kind of blowing it, we . . . knew if we'd concentrate for 60 minutes, stay focused for 60 minutes, we'd be tough to beat."

Luc Robitaille, who had not scored in seven games, put away a third rebound at 18:54 on Capitals rookie goalie Jim Carey, and NHL leading point man Jaromir Jagr finished a three-on-one breakaway 19 seconds later to tie the game, 3-3, within the first 1:35.

Four minutes later, the puck was loose in front of the Capitals' goal for what seemed like a decade, tantalizingly out of the reach of Carey. Caps center Michal Pivonka held on to the Penguin nearest him, to protect the puck, and the move worked, but only for a moment.

Pivonka was given two minutes for holding, and Stevens scored on the power play 11 seconds later.

It was the second disappointing Stanley Cup playoff game for Carey, who had been pulled 1:38 into the second period of Game 1, trailing 3-1, and it was the first time this season that he lost in the game after being pulled.

"We turned the puck over at the blue line with a dropped pass, and then we started running around," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, whose team had been 17-0-1 this season when leading after two periods.

"Then they got the momentum going and we were back on our heels. Those are things we just don't do. Those are things we work on daily. When you don't break up the play at the blue line, you're dead, especially against a team that is good on the counterattack. We started the third period with less intelligence than we had the second and it cost us. Once they got rolling, we couldn't stop them and they dominated."

Schoenfeld did credit Carey with a better game than he had in Game 1 and said he thought his goalie played well enough to win.

"We didn't give him much help on the rebounds," Schoenfeld said. "His game was OK and he stopped Ron Francis on a breakaway in the third. That should have been enough."

But the Capitals coach said his team has yet to get all its parts working. He said the team "had passengers" last night, and if they don't get themselves together, "the result in Game 3" will be the same.

The series shifts to USAir Arena in Landover for Games 3 and 4. Game 5 will be back here in Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"We've got to play better," said Washington team captain Dale Hunter, who just missed tying the game at 11:03 of the third period. "It's the game of hockey. It's execution. It's the main thing.

"Tonight, we had moments when we didn't [execute]. I maybe should have scored in the open net. I got my stick on the puck, but it was too near my feet and I couldn't get it done. I didn't execute.

"And they've got good offensive power. Jagr came on. It's just the way playoff hockey games go."

Despite losing a 3-1 lead and losing, as Pittsburgh had in Game 1, the Capitals leave here at least knowing they have taken the home-ice advantage away from the Penguins.

"It's a tough loss," said Caps winger Keith Jones, who scored Washington's third goal. "But it's only one game. And we'll look forward to getting back at it. We're not satisfied. We could have put a stranglehold on them, but we're going to come home and we're looking forward to it."

Washington attempted a comeback at 12:05, when given a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:04. The Caps planted Hunter at the crease for the duration.

The veteran center, who had two goals and two assists in Washington's comeback victory Saturday, got his stick on the puck at 11:03, but could not wrist it past Pittsburgh goalie Ken Wregget, who was out of the net, but close enough to Hunter's feet to keep him from turning the puck back into the net.

Wregget looked as if he was going to experience another disaster against the Capitals in the first period. He gave up goals to Sylvain Cote, Peter Bondra and Jones and he had the Penguins' public relations staff hustling to find out what his career record was against Washington.

The resulting numbers, five wins in 27 games going into last night, would not have been encouraging to the 15,079 fans here in the Civic Arena. But before the night was over, Wregget would have 19 saves and his sixth victory over the Caps.

"Wregget proved his worth tonight," said Pittsburgh coach Ed Johnston. "He came into the room after the first period and said, 'You guys get a couple and I'll shut the door.' And that's exactly what he did.

"We have a long way to go yet. And we know everything you get off Washington you're going to have to earn."

For the second time in two games, the Penguins started fast.

When Washington was called for two penalties within 55 seconds of each other to give the Penguins a five-on-three, former Capital Larry Murphy unloaded a slap shot from the point with 3:35 gone in the game.

Carey was trying to look around Stevens, who had taken up residence in front of the crease, but never saw the puck that caromed past his right ear for a 1-0 lead.

Carey finished the evening with 28 saves, but no glory.

NOTES: Washington's top line had a different look last night, with Kelly Miller playing left wing on the Pivonka-centered line with right wing Bondra, while Dimitri Khristich started the night with Hunter and Mike Eagles.

Center Dave Poulin (separated right shoulder) did not see a doctor yesterday, but did spend the day in Baltimore in the Hyperbolic Chamber at University Hospital, and is expected to have X-rays today.

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