LANDOVER -- Since Anaheim acquired Teemu Selanne 16 games ago, the Mighty Ducks have been on the rise. Last night, in a high-stakes game, the Washington Capitals had the opportunity to learn see what Selanne's presence means, even on a night when he doesn't score.
The Capitals, with a wonderful opportunity to move up the standings in the Eastern Conference, followed their game-plan to a T. Coach Jim Schoenfeld told his team that if it shut out the Teemu Selanne/Paul Kariya Kryia line, it would have a good chance to win.
And so Dale Hunter, Kelly Miller and Mike Eagles did that. They did it so well that Selanne didn't get a shot until the final eight minutes of the game and Kariya never got one.
But the Mighty Ducks won, 2-1, on a night when their goalie, Guy Hebert, made 33 saves and their goals came from the unexpected. The line of Valeri Karpov (one goal, one assist), Steve Rucchin (one goal, one assist) and Joe Sacco (two assists) produced all the offense the Ducks needed.
It was a perfect demonstration of what Selanne means to the Ducks, even when he doesn't score. The Capitals had a pretty good idea before last night, seeing as how they tried to acquire him around the all-star break. When Winnipeg backed out of a suspected deal with Washington for Selanne, the Jets turned to Anaheim and the trade was worked out in early February.
Capitals general manager David Poile will continue to work toward finding Washington some needed offense before today's trading deadline. Anaheim, meanwhile, has few needs since acquiring Selanne, who's been a force in the Ducks' locker room.
"From the third period of my first game here, we have been slowly getting better," Selanne said last night, after patting nearly every back in the locker room. "That first game, you could see the heads going down in the second period against the Islanders and then we played much better in the third period and told them, 'If we play like this third period, we will win a lot of games.' And they just looked at me and said 'Really?' It has been like a snowball since then, getting better and better and better.
"It's my job to lead and to score. But they are taking pride in playing well and that's why I'm so happy. There are a bunch of good guys here."
The Capitals didn't count these two points before the game, Schoenfeld said. They knew Anaheim had been playing well. Perhaps the most distressing thing in this game, before 15,212 at USAir Arena, was that Washington did what it wanted to do.
"But the line we expected to score for us didn't and it had two goals scored against them," Schoenfeld said. "But there's nothing you can do. You have to accept it and move on."
The line of Peter Bondra, Michal Pivonka and Steve Konowalchuk was on the ice for both of Anaheim's two-on-one breakaways that resulted in goals by Valeri Karpov and Steve Rucchin.
Washington's lone goal came in the second period, 15 seconds after Karpov scored, on a nice goal by Stefan Ustorf, who scored for the first time since New Year's Day and the first time in 15 games.
The Capitals (33-29-8) remain in a tie for seventh with Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference and move on to Tampa Bay for to morrow's meeting with the Lightning, another improved team that shut out Washington, 1-0, in their last meeting on March 10.
The Caps and Lightning are a point ahead of Boston in the race for the final two playoff spots.
"This was a huge game for Washington; every bit as big a game as it was for us, bigger, in fact, because you never want to lose on your home ice," said Anaheim coach Ron Wilson. "That's the (( pride part. And that's why I'm so happy. We did all the right things in the third period and got quality ice time from all our young defensemen."
The Capitals tried everything in the third period. They rushed the net numerous times only to be brought up stone cold by Hebert, whose save percentage rose to .964 in his last five games, all victories in a franchise consecutive-win record.
Konowalchuk thought he had tied the game with 14: 44 left. The Caps forward had tapped a rebound at the net and the puck had danced on the goal line, but it didn't completely cross it before Hebert got his stick behind it for the save.
"I thought it was in," Konowalchuk said. "I'd have to look at a re play to see that it wasn't. This is definitely a real hard loss. Right now, they're all hard losses and exciting wins. It's playoff time and there is pressure on us, but I don't think we're worried because we can still control our own fate."
But time is dwindling. The Capitals are down to their last 12 games and seven of those will be played on the road.
The Ducks are working hard on their fate. By beating Washington for the first time since coming into existence in 1993, the Ducks moved to within one point of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Pub Date: 3/20/96