Caps shown playoff exit

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- The opportunistic Pittsburgh Penguins sent the Washington Capitals home last night to contemplate why so much went wrong after they had forged a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven conference quarterfinal series.

The Penguins advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, scoring two first-period goals and adding a late one in the third period for a 3-0 victory.

The Capitals regained their equilibrium in the second period, with a strong defensive effort that included the killing of a five-minute major penalty and fine goaltending from rookie Jim Carey. But by that time Norm MacIver and Ron Francis had staked the Penguins to a 2-0 lead. And no matter how Washington tried it could not solve Penguins' goalie Ken Wregget, who made 33 saves to post the third shutout of his career and the first since 1987, when he played for Toronto.

Pittsburgh will face the New Jersey Devils in an Eastern Conference semifinal series.

The victory makes Pittsburgh the 13th team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit, and puts the Capitals in the unenviable position of having blown a 3-1 lead four times.

The Capitals are now 1-4 in Game 7 of a playoff series.

The Penguins scored first when Dave Poulin, playing for the first time since separating his shoulder in Game 1, chased the Larry Murphy and the puck back to the Pittsburgh zone, where he passed to Norm MacIver. From his blue line, MacIver advanced up ice with no one near him.

There was no one near him. No one in front of him. No one coming toward him.

He skated, while Ken Klee and Mike Eagles were being kept busy along the boards and while Capitals defensemen Calle Johansson and Mark Tinordi were tripping over each other in the right circle. MacIver skated straight in on rookie goalie Jim Carey. He looked right and left, then gently tapped the puck between Carey's legs for the 1-0 lead at 1:37.

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