PITTSBURGH -- Down by two goals going into the third period last night and in danger of going down by two games in their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't waddle. Instead they struck like a pack of hungry vultures, ripping Washington for a 5-3 victory.
The Penguins scored three times within the first 4:09 of the final period to take a 4-3 lead that would stand up, tying the series at 1-1.
Before last night, Washington was 17-0-1 when leading after two periods this season, but now it must return to USAir Arena in Landover for Games 3 and 4 knowing it let one slip away.
"We turned the puck over at the blue line and we were back on our heels," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "Those are things we just don't do. We started the third period with less intelligence than we had the second. And give [the Penguins] credit: once they got rolling, we couldn't stop them.
"We won the first game without all our guys playing well and we had a few passengers again tonight," Schoenfeld added. "If they don't turn up their game, you'll see the same result in Game 3."
It was Kevin Stevens' power-play goal with 15:40 to play that clinched the win and ended a four-game Penguins losing streak -- three at the end of the regular season and then again in Game 1.
It was Luc Robitaille, who had not scored in seven games, putting away the third rebound at 18:54 on Capitals rookie goalie Jim Carey, and it was the NHL's leading point man Jaromir Jagr who finished a three-on-one breakaway 19 seconds later, tying the game 3-3 within the first 1:35 of the third period.
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 lTC 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. Robitaille scored again into an empty net with 40.3 seconds to play for the final margin.
It was the second disappointing playoff game for Carey (28 saves), 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.
"Carey was much better tonight, but 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 and that should have been enough."
While losing a two-goal 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.
Washington attempted a comeback at 12:05, when given a 4-on-3 advantage for 1:04. The Caps planted Dale Hunter in the crease for the duration. Hunter, 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.
"I should have scored into the empty net," Hunter said. "I got my stick on the puck, but it was too near my feet and I couldn't get it done.
"We've got to play better," Hunter added. "It's the game of hockey. It's execution. Tonight, we had moments when we didn't."
Wregget recovered from a bad opening period in which he gave up goals to Sylvain Cote, Peter Bondra and Keith Jones, to make 19 saves for the victory.
"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 what he did.
"We have a long way to go yet," Johnston added. "Everything you get off Washington you're going to have to earn."
The Penguins didn't make a big deal out of coming into the playoffs off a three-game losing streak. And they weren't overly concerned yesterday about being down a game in this best-of-seven series.
Pittsburgh believed if it played its game for 60 minutes, it wouldn't have to worry about the Capitals.
And so, for the second straight game, the Penguins came out in the first period with determination. And when the Capitals were called for two penalties within 55 seconds of each other, Pittsburgh took advantage of a 5-on-3 opportunity to forge the early lead.
With 3:35 gone in the game, defenseman Larry Murphy unloaded a slap shot from the point. Carey was trying to look around Pittsburgh's 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.
Earlier this season, it might have taken the Caps a while to get that goal back. But this Washington team is resilient. Thirty-seven seconds later, Caps center Mike Eagles won a faceoff in the Penguins zone, and defenseman Cote one-timed it into the net behind Wregget for a 1-1 tie.
It was the first of three goals Wregget would allow on eight first-period shots by Washington. And then, as if following Saturday's script in reverse, Washington took advantage of a four-minute spearing call on Joe Mullen to take a 2-1 lead. Caps center Joe Juneau took an outlet pass from Pivonka and sent it cross-ice to charging Bondra, and the NHL's leading goal-scorer whisked it into the net 15 seconds into the penalty at 9:50.
About three minutes later, it was Juneau getting enough on the puck to get the outlet going to Steve Konowalchuk, and the left wing made a terrific pass to Jones crossing in front of the crease. Jones put it away for the 3-1 lead with 7:17 to go.
Saturday, of course, it was Pittsburgh taking advantage of a spearing penalty to take the 3-1 lead and then blowing it. The roles would be reversed, but those in attendance didn't know that.
Thus, when the Penguins left the ice after the first period it was to a loud chorus of boos by the 15,079 at the Civic Arena and they heard the same sounds deep into the second period.
Washington seemed to go into a defensive shell early in the second period, content to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone.
But when Richard Park hit the post behind Carey at 8:07, it seemed to bring the Caps back to life and they again went on the attack. But this time the Penguins and Wregget refused to give ground.
NOTE: Capitals 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.