LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals, it seems, spent a lot of time playing the ghost of Mario Lemieux yesterday. Finally, after two periods and trailing 2-1, someone noticed that the legendary No. 66 wasn't among the Pittsburgh Penguins cast but was back home with the flu.
The Caps came out of the locker room in overdrive. Just 31 seconds after the resumption of play, Calle Johansson had a goal, tying the score.
Six minutes and 10 shots later, Stefan Ustorf tapped in a rebound to put Washington in front on its way to a 4-2 victory, its sixth straight at USAir Arena.
"It's always tough to play here, and with Mario out, it's necessary for other guys to pick up the pace. They have to shoot more. We were passing it around too much," said Penguins coach Ed Johnston.
Usually, Pittsburgh unloads 34 shots per game in Gatling-gun fashion. The Caps held the Penguins to 25 this time and played solidly through five Pittsburgh power plays, surrendering just Tomas Sandstrom's 26th tally midway through the second period that gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The teams had left the ice after 20 minutes tied, Steve Konowalchuk's 13th score matching Jaromir Jagr's 34th earlier.
Johansson said he may have gotten "a little lucky" on his tying goal, goalie Tom Barrasso losing sight of the blast from the blue line for an instant.
"But we came out with the idea of not sitting back, and going after them, and the way our guys were playing up front, it made it easy to get shots," said Johansson.
The guys up front consisted of the Dale Hunter-Konowalchuk-Kelly Miller line, which, according to coach Jim Schoenfeld, "did a sensational job containing their top scorers. Not only did they stop them [Jagr and Ron Francis, the NHL's Nos. 2 and 3 scorers], they created opportunities with their strong forechecking.
"Hunter's always got a tough assignment. He goes against the top line every game and today, for instance, I think he won every faceoff in our zone. You have to make the stars work, push them back in their own end. Give them the puck in your end and they're full of energy."
Lemieux took sick after Saturday night's game against the Florida Panthers, in which he scored his 35th career hat trick. His coach said he has been carrying flu symptoms around for 10 or 15 days. In 32 games, Lemieux has scored 34 goals and assisted on 52. He leads the league in just about every offensive category.
Without him, the Penguins are 1-3-1, and Johnston said he wanted this one "especially for our younger guys, to let them know that without 66 we can win some hockey games."
Even without Lemieux, who didn't play in Pittsburgh's first visit here in November, meaning Caps fans won't see him this season, the Penguins are sufficiently loaded with offensive talent to require the Caps to skate four forward lines.
"The Jagr-Francis line stays out there for a minute and a half, and that's just too long to expect our guys to stay with them," Schoenfeld said.
The Hunter line stuck with them like glue, however, and although Jagr had a goal and Francis an assist, they had defensive ratings of minus-three and a minus-two for the game.
Jim Carey, making his 11th consecutive start in goal, has been beaten only twice during that stretch and has allowed just two goals per game over the past nine games. He had 23 saves, many of them of the tough variety, attesting to Pittsburgh's scoring ability even without Lemieux.
Word that Lemieux wouldn't be playing disappointed the sellout crowd of 18,130 -- including a throng from Pittsburgh, naturally -- but the first period had so much slam-bang action that most probably forgot.
The bodies flying hither and yon did take its toll, though, as the Caps lost Mike Eagles for three weeks to a broken finger and Jim Johnson two weeks to a strained shoulder.
Glen Murray will be lost to Pittsburgh for about three weeks with a separated shoulder.
Pittsburgh 1 1 0 -- 2
Washington 1 0 3 -- 4
First period--1, Pittsburgh, Jagr 34 (Zubov), 4:35. 2, Washington, Konowalchuk 13 (Ustorf, Johansson), 12:59. Penalties--Jones, Was (goalie interference), 9:53; Konowalchuk, Was (high-sticking), 10:51; Patterson, Pit (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:55; Eagles, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:55; Witt, Was (slashing), 19:16.
Second period--3, Pittsburgh, Sandstrom 26 (Zubov, Francis), 10:50 (pp). Penalties--Juneau, Was (slashing), 9:09; Washington bench, served by Peake (too many men), 11:47.
Third period--4, Washington, Johansson 2 (Konowalchuk, Hunter), :31. 5, Washington, Ustorf 5 (Johnson, Gonchar), 6:12. 6, Washington, Bondra 21 (Miller, Tinordi), 19:32 (en). Penalties--Wilkinson, Pit, minor-misconduct (tripping), 18:06; Pivonka, Was (boarding), 18:22.
Shots on goal--Pittsburgh 8-9-8--25. Washington 12-8-17--37. Power-play opportunities--Pittsburgh 1 of 5; Washington 0 of 1.
Goalies--Pittsburgh, Barrasso 13-3-2 (36 shots-33 saves). Washington, Carey 17-10-3 (25-23).
Referee--Paul Stewart. Linesmen--Gord Broseker, Stephane Provost.