PITTSBURGH -- A year ago, Luc Robitaille was at the World Hockey Championships when the Pittsburgh Penguins were beaten in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Washington Capitals, falling in six games.
"I didn't get to see it, but I had some friends here and heard about it," said the former Los Angeles King, who was traded to the Penguins last summer. "I was surprised they lost. I think everyone was surprised they lost. Any time a team does well during a regular season, you're surprised when they lose like that in the first round."
Now, Robitaille is a Penguin. Now, he is experiencing a Pittsburgh-Washington playoff series.
In Game 2, without him and his third-period linemates, Jaromir Jagr and Ron Francis, Pittsburgh likely would be looking at a 2-0 deficit going into Game 3 tonight in Landover.
Robitaille scored twice, Jagr once and Francis delivered four assists to overcome a 3-1 Capitals lead in the third period.
"Washington plays well. They're very disciplined, and they have great defensemen," said Robitaille. "Anytime you have good defensemen, they are always tough to beat. . . . You can't count them out.
"If you don't work hard against them, you're not going to win. I think they've proven that through the year. But I also think this is our series to win and would be even if we were down 3-0."
Perhaps, but the Penguins must overcome not only the Capitals, but also their reputation. Washington is known for its powerful work ethic; the Penguins are not.
Even after rallying to win Game 2, Pittsburgh woke up yesterday to find its character again being questioned.
"Lack of character . . . overrated . . . out-coached . . . outworked. Take your pick," wrote Bob Smizik in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They all fit." The only concession made was that the obituary is now on hold.
Robitaille sat in the Penguins locker room yesterday and considered the criticism.
"People who say there is a lack of work here don't know us," he said. "Look around this room -- Kevin Stevens, Ulf Samuelsson, Ron Francis -- all those guys have won Stanley Cups. You don't win Stanley Cups with lack of heart. And they certainly deserve to be where they are."
The Penguins, he said, are different from a year ago. They are playing without goalie Tom Barrasso and without the great Mario Lemieux. So Robitaille said everyone has had to produce for the team to earn the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
"Certainly, the pride has been here," he said. "And we've had a pretty good season. But people are still counting us out.
Pittsburgh surprised with a 12-0-1 season-opening run, but disappointed by finishing 17-16-2.
"So for us to win, it's a big challenge," Robitaille said. "And now that we're back to 1-1, we've got to move ahead, and it's not going to be easy.
"We've got to win tomorrow right now. We're supposed to win. We should win, and we have to work hard to win."
Yesterday, Penguins coach Ed Johnston said he had a sense of relief that the series was even again.
"We had to pick up the pace, play with a little more intensity," Johnston said. "I made some line changes in hopes some players would gain some energy off someone else. We couldn't just sit and feel sorry for ourselves. We had to go back on the ice with some effort and energy. We had to open it up a little bit."
To do that, Johnston started the third period by putting Robitaille on the Jagr-Francis line and shifting Kevin Stevens to a line with John Cullen. The results are to be found in the stat sheet.
Though Robitaille brushes aside his scoring role, it was an important night for him and for the hopes of his team. The Penguins need Robitaille to score, but over the last 10 games of the regular season, he had only two goals. Monday's goals ended a seven-game scoreless streak.
"Me, personally, I just want to play," he said. "I talked to the coach. I told him that, and I told him I want to have a chance to help this team. I did that [Monday]."
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Site: USAir Arena,Landover
TV/Radio: Ch. 20/WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: With the series tied at 1, Washington has the home-ice advantage. The Capitals were not happy with their performance in their 5-3 loss in Game 2 on Monday. The team held a closed-door meeting yesterday and then met with the coaches, but did not skate. In Pittsburgh, the Penguins gave G Ken Wregget and RW Jaromir Jagr the day off from practice, but said both will be ready tonight. Penguins G Tom Barrasso worked out, but coach Ed Johnston would not say if he would play in one of the next two games. He did say Barrasso might dress as a backup, depending on how he looks in practice today. Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld will not pick his starting goalie, Jim Carey or Olie Kolzig, until after this morning's skate. The Penguins report D Chris Tamer (fractured ankle) is out indefinitely. Washington reports C Dave Poulin (separated right shoulder) and D Mark Tinordi (sprained knee) are out.
CAPS VS. PENGUINS
EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINAL
(Series tied, 1-1)
Game 1: Capitals, 5-4
Game 2: Penguins, 5-3
Today: at Wash., 7:30 p.m., Ch. 20
Friday: at Washington, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: at Pittsburgh, TBA
Tuesday: at Wash., 7:30 p.m.*
May 18: at Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m.*
* if necessary