Capitals are in position to clinch STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS


PITTSBURGH -- They've been here before, at this 3-1 junction in a Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. And the Washington Capitals have come out of it with mixed results. But as they prepared for today's showdown here at the Civic Arena, past failures seemed not to apply.

"Have the Caps lost a 3-1 series?" said Washington rookie goalie Jim Carey. "I'm new to this. You can be up 3-0 and lose. I'm sure it's happened somewhere in the NHL before. But I'd rather be in our shoes than theirs. And we're not sitting back. We're going hard at 'em and we're not taking anything for granted."

The Capitals are on the verge of winning this best-of-seven quarterfinal series because of their defense, which has been their saving grace all season. But here is a delightful and not so little aside -- if you're a Caps backer -- that also has made a major difference.

Going into last night's Western Conference games, the Capitals were the most productive goal-scoring team in the NHL postseason. They have produced 20 goals, and Carey and Olie Kolzig have guarded the net.

Yesterday, Carey was not surprised to learn that his team leads the league in goal scoring.

"It's comforting to see six goals," said Carey, who won games 3 and 4 by identical 6-2 scores. "Pittsburgh is so good offensively, if they could do what they do offensively and play defense as well, there is no team that's going to beat them."

Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld says the Penguins have put a lot of emphasis on hitting in the past two games.

"I think Pittsburgh has gone out of its way to throw some big hits," said Schoenfeld. "But sometimes when you throw a big hit and the puck is moved by you, and someone doesn't cover up for the man hitting, you get an odd-man rush and that's how Steve Konowalchuk scored the first goal [in Game 4]."

The Capitals have fought hard for their position. Veteran center Kelly Miller, who with Michal Pivonka, Konowalchuk and Calle Johansson, played a big roll in denying Pittsburgh on a five-on-three power play Friday, points to the consistent pressure Washington has put on Pittsburgh as a key to the Capitals' turn of fortune on the offensive end.

"Everybody in our lineup is playing the body and really moving our feet well," said Miller. "When you do that as a team and you do it shift after shift, then that eventually wears the other team down and they're going to make mistakes.

"I wouldn't characterize them as slow, but I think what we're doing is making them extremely tired in some situations."

Though Peter Bondra, the NHL's leading goal scorer in the regular season, has continued to produce with three goals and ** two assists in four games, Rob Pearson was the ninth Cap to score in the series, and by the time the night was over and Dimitri Khristich and Pivonka had scored, the number had risen to 11.


Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Site: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh

Time: 3 p.m.

TV/Radio: Chs. 45, 5/WMAL (630 AM)

Outlook: Washington can wrap up the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with a victory over the Penguins. Washington holds a 3-1 lead in the series. The Penguins are expected to return to goalie Ken Wregget today, while Washington continues with G Jim Carey, who has won two straight and has lowered his goals-against average from over eight to 3.28. A year ago, Washington built a 3-1 lead and won the series, 4-2. 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.

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