PITTSBURGH -- When Washington rookie goalie Jim Carey was called up from the minor leagues and anchored an amazing turnaround by the Capitals, coach Jim Schoenfeld tried to temper the outside reaction.
It isn't just Carey, Schoenfeld would say. It's the whole team.
Now that their Stanley Cup Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Pittsburgh Penguins has come down to Game 7, after the Capitals had built a 3-1 lead, Schoenfeld is again trying to temper perceptions as Carey takes his place in goal tonight.
"This is not at all the series that we or Jim would have expected or desired," said Schoenfeld, who has pulled Carey three times in this series -- including twice in Tuesday night's 7-1 beating.
"But the sad thing -- not the sad thing, but the thing -- about Jimmy is that when he came, everyone said it was Jim," said Schoenfeld. "It was a great story, but it wasn't true.
"The reality was that the team was playing well. We were averaging 24 shots, nine, 10 or 12 scoring chances against, and they weren't getting any rebounds, all that. And Jimmy was playing very well.
"But now the team isn't playing very well. But because it was all Jim, now it's 'ah, ah, Jim,' and neither is right.
"It was Jim and the team, and now it's Jim and the team."
And, said Schoenfeld, Carey and the team have a lot of mental work to do before tonight. Capitals owner Abe Pollin made a rare visit to practice yesterday to offer his moral support before the team departed for tonight's game.
"I belong here, this is my team, they're a part of me," said Pollin. "I have full confidence in them. We've played Pittsburgh in six games now and we've outplayed them in five. Yes, we lost, 7-1, and it was a blowout. But it's only one game."
Just one game. That's all that is left in this series now. The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against New Jersey this weekend. If the Capitals are to win tonight, they must overcome a feeling of inferiority.
"When things are right, your defensemen want to be the one guy facing a three-on-one breakaway, because it's their chance to contribute and make the big play," Schoenfeld said. "And your forwards want to be on the power play for the same reason.
"But against Pittsburgh Tuesday, we didn't want to be the guy -- not even in a one-on-one situation. You can't compete if you're frightened -- or intimidated by the other team's skill. That's what happened to us. Instead of embracing the situation, we were intimidated by it."
Schoenfeld said he anticipates a change tonight, because "when you get enough sand kicked in your face, you either get buried or you fight back. I think we have the character to fight.
"We have a long way to climb, but it's an emotional and mental climb that the players have to make themselves," Schoenfeld said. "They have to get mentally prepared to go on the ice believing they can win the hockey game. . . . It can be done. . .
"Nothing has changed except perception. We've got to get our perception back closer to reality, and the reality is that we're a damned good hockey team and Tuesday night was an aberration."
Carey, who is in his first Stanley Cup playoff series, definitely would like to help his team make the climb. This is the first time
he has seen the same team in seven straight games. He says it is a situation that gets harder every night.
Carey, who turns 21 on May 31, must not show any cracks in his armor. Schoenfeld admits that a lot of the team's early success with Carey was the result of the team believing in him.
"Some of the goals that are going in have been some pretty
good goals," Carey said. "I'm not going to worry about those. They're a great offensive team, and when [Jaromir] Jagr is coming down on two or three breakaways a game, I mean I'm certainly not going to lose sleep over that."
Carey lost 7-1 in Game 6 on Tuesday, then went home and played with his 8-week-old Rottweiler named Jake.
"He's good," said Carey. "He keeps your mind off of things. You don't want to think about games like that too much because you don't want to get yourself down even more. You're torturing yourself, and that's no good because you can't do anything about that game. There is still another game. I'll torture myself at the end of the playoffs."
CAPS VS. PENGUINS
* EASTERN CONF. QUARTERFINAL
Series tied, 3-3
Game 1: Capitals, 5-4
Game 2: Penguins, 5-3
Game 3: Capitals, 6-2
Game 4: Capitals, 6-2
Game 5: Penguins, 6-5, OT
Game 6: Penguins, 7-1
Today: at Pitt., 7:30 p.m.
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Site: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh
TV/Radio: Ch. 20/WMAL (630 AM)
Outlook: It's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between Washington and Pittsburgh. The Penguins have
rallied for back-to-back wins in games 5 and 6 to stave off elimination and tie the series at 3. Washington must try to control the flow of the game with solid checking, sound defensive work. Pittsburgh will try to keep the game an end-to-end affair that better suits their transition game. The Penguins report D Chris Tamer (fractured ankle) is out indefinitely. Washington reports G Olie Kolzig (knee) and C Dave Poulin (separated right shoulder) are out, while D Mark Tinordi (sprained knee) is doubtful.