LANDOVER -- For the Washington Capitals, it was a nightmare on the USAir Arena ice.
Goalie Ken Wregget made 30 saves and came within 1:27 of his first shutout since 1989 last night, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, one game from elimination, crushed the Caps, 7-1, in Game 6 of the NHL's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
This best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoff series is tied 3-3 and will return to Pittsburgh tomorrow night for a Game 7 showdown.
"I think we forgot our kryptonite," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld. "They threw an awful lot at us. It looked like men against boys the first 10 minutes of the game. They generated a lot of speed and we missed coverage in the neutral zones . . . we got back on our heels and we couldn't recover."
Said Caps defenseman Joe Reekie: "A nightmare is an understatement. I think the whole night we seemed to be catching up.
"But we're in position where it's coming down to one game. We'll take this as a slap in the face, as a wake-up call, as a shot in the arm. We know if we play like that, we're going to lose, especially against this team."
The demoralizing defeat would have been bad enough for Washington, which had held a 3-1 series lead. But the Caps also lost backup goaltender Olie Kolzig on a night when the Penguins made Washington's No. 1 goalie, Jim Carey, look like a 20-year-old rookie for one of the few times this season.
"I don't think Jim played well," said Schoenfeld. "I don't think our forwards or our defense played well. You might overcome one, but not all."
Schoenfeld said Carey will be back in goal for Game 7.
Kolzig was playing well after he entered with 16:23 left in the opening period with Washington trailing 2-0. But after making a series of terrific stops, he twisted his right knee with 10:41 remaining and will be out indefinitely with torn cartilage.
"It's nothing really serious," said Kolzig, who said he will have arthroscopic surgery today. "I think there is some torn cartilage on the outside of my knee and I might have torn some scar tissue from where I dislocated my kneecap last year.
"If it's just the cartilage, then I've come back within 10 days from that stuff before. So I'm looking at two weeks."
Pittsburgh got two goals each from Luc Robitaille, Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Sandstrom and one from Troy Murray.
The last time Washington was beaten this badly in the postseason was in 1986, when they lost, 8-1, to the New York Rangers in a second-round game. Last night, Caps right wing Keith Jones spoiled Wregget's shutout bid when he scored with 1:27 to play.
In 1992, the Caps lost a playoff series to Pittsburgh after holding a 3-1 advantage. A year ago, however, Washington took a 3-1 lead and wrapped up the Penguins in six games, with the clincher at USAir Arena. Last night, the majority of the 15,412 fans expected the same result.
But Carey was beaten early and late in the first two periods, and when Washington's third rookie goalie of the night, Byron Dafoe, entered for the start of the final period, Pittsburgh made sure he didn't feel out of place, as Sandstrom scored 27 seconds into the period.
The Penguins were inspired. Maybe it was because Schoenfeld assured that there would be no Game 7 -- an unlikely thing for the coach to say, given that he had said nothing but complimentary about the Penguins through the first five games.
It might have been the bulletin-board material the Penguins needed, or it might have been the confidence gained from the 6-5 overtime victory in Game 5. Whatever, the Penguins used it to great advantage, scoring twice on their first three shots in the first 3:37 of the game, setting the tone for the rout.