Without eight key players because of injuries, Washington fell behind the high-scoring Pittsburgh Penguins by three goals and saw its starting goaltender, Jim Carey, chased from his net with 8: 51 to go in the second period.
Washington's response to all this adversity was to put Olie Kolzig in goal and rally for a 6-4 victory, scoring five unanswered goals over the final 24 minutes.
"We were just persistent," said Washington's Todd Krygier, who scored twice, including the game-winner with 7: 34 to play. "Instead of getting down after the Penguins' first two goals, we used it as a rallying cry. We just know we're a hard-working team and have to play within our limits."
That's how Washington survived the last two months of the regular season just to make the playoffs. But there were several eye-opening components to this victory.
One, the Capitals, who have averaged just 2.81 goals a game, wound up with more than twice their normal production.
And two, a team that had five players in action last night who have never been in the Stanley Cup playoffs before, combined with Washington's veterans to maintain their focus and not only hold on to, but expand their lead over the final 7 1/2 minutes, when Michal Pivonka scored into an empty net.
"We just kept working hard and believing," said Caps forward Joe Juneau, who assisted on three of his team's goals. "When it was 4-1, we just never stopped.
"It's good to prove to ourselves what can happen when we play as a team. We believe that by playing as a team we can accomplish a lot of things."
The Capitals, who led the league in third-period comeback victories during the regular season with six, have now won Game in all five playoff meetings with the Penguins.
And if that isn't enough, consider this: In Game 1 last year, it was Olie Kolzig coming in in relief to stake the Capitals to the win, and defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who tied the game last night, who had the game-winner in 1995.
The Penguins left the ice to boos from the crowd of 16,238, who could not believe their team had been done in by the rag-tag Capitals.
Game 2 is set for here tomorrow night, and all the Capitals emphasized that tonight's victory was just one game in a seven-game series.
"They've got a talented team over there," said Kolzig, who made 12 saves in relief. "We're going to have to maintain our focus if we plan to keep this up."
Among those congratulating Kolzig last night was team owner Abe Pollin, who came into the locker room and patted Kolzig hard on his left cheek.
"I'm proud of you guys," Pollin said.
The Capitals were not perfect. Two turnovers in their zone by Juneau and Carey resulted in Petr Nedved's back-to-back goals within a record-setting 11 seconds just 3: 07 into the first period.
Three times the Caps were called for penalties that wiped out power-play advantages. And with 4: 26 gone in the second period, center Kevin Kaminski inexplicably roughed up Mario Lemieux right under the referee's nose to set up the power play that Ron Francis completed for a 3-1 Penguins lead.
But after Tomas Sandstrom made it 4-1 and Carey was removed, having allowed four goals on 16 shots, the Caps refused to lose.
"This has been the great thing about our team all season," said Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld. "The word 'team' means something here. Jimmy [Carey] had a difficult night, a tough time handling the puck and making saves.
"But he's played so much and he's been great. Maybe it just caught up with him. But there was Olie, ready to come in and come through."
"The big thing for our team is to believe they can get the job done. Tonight, we played a 60-minute game. And it showed again that it is the team concept that has been the strength of this team all year."
The Capitals' power play, ranked a disheartening 22nd in the NHL, came up with the game-tying goal with 12: 02 to play when rookie Andrew Brunette connected with defenseman Sergei Gonchar in the slot and Gonchar beat Barrasso to the glove side.
Perhaps the final touch was that the Caps' penalty killers allowed Pittsburgh, which has the league's No. 1 power play unit, just one goal in six tries.
@Washington 1 2 3 -- 6
Pittsburgh 2 2 0 -- 4
Pub Date: 4/18/96