PITTSBURGH -- When Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series ended with the Washington Capitals carrying off a 6-4 comeback victory, Jim Carey was sitting on the sidelines leading the cheers.
For Carey, the Caps' No. 1 goalie and one of the best in the NHL, it was not the place to be. For the second time in two years, in the same series, against the same team, the Caps had to call Olie Kolzig in relief to backstop a winning rally.
"It's not easier to accept because I've -- unfortunately -- experienced it before," Carey said with a smile at what seemed a bad joke. "If anything, it's almost tougher because it's my second time around and I know what to expect.
"It wasn't like it was a mystery who we were playing. It wasn't a mystery what I had to do. You know, I make a bad pass and set the stage. I certainly have to play better than that to win. We got fortunate [Wednesday night]. I know that, and I think the team knows that."
Going into this series, which continues with Game 2 tonight in Pittsburgh, several things seemed clear: The Caps, with eight key players injured, were enormous underdogs, and if they had any chance of stealing a game, it would be
Carey doing the stealing.
So what to make of Game 1?
Carey made two stick-handling errors that cost him two goals and failed to stop two other shots. At 11: 09 of the second period, with the score 4-1 Pittsburgh, Carey was gone from the game.
Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld said later that it didn't take a coach with "great hockey moxie" to see it wasn't going to be Carey's night.
"I said before this series that if it's just Jimmy against Mario [Lemieux] and Jaromir [Jagr], then we're in trouble," said Schoenfeld. "Well, here's the case in point. Here's a game where Jimmy didn't do it and our team gathered great confidence by doing it anyway."
The Caps rallied for five unanswered goals and Kolzig made 12 saves to shut out the Penguins for the final 28: 51. It was enough to redden the face of Pittsburgh coach Ed Johnston and send him off to compose line changes.
Johnston, who lamented the lack of scoring from his top line, is expected to try to get the Lemieux line on the ice against Washington's most inexperienced defensive tandem of Eric Charron and Steve Poapst. The Caps hope to counter by teaming them with their veteran checking line, centered by Dale Hunter.
As the series heats up, the Caps expect Carey back in the net.
"All the top goalies in the league, and Jimmy is the best, have a night now and then when it's not typical," said Caps left wing Todd Krygier, who scored the game-winner in Game 1.
"Over 82 games, Jimmy's been the best. Over the past month, he's been almost perfect. He'll be fine."
Schoenfeld would not say who would start, but Carey and Kolzig expect Carey to be in the nets tonight.
"Ace is the guy who got us here," Kolzig said of Carey. "My role is to step in if something happens to him and try to do what he's been doing all along."
All along, Carey has shown himself to be resilient. After Kolzig replaced Carey in a game in early February, Carey responded with two wins and two ties in his next four. When Kolzig started two games in mid-February, Carey came back with back-to-back shutouts.
"This might turn out to be a good thing," said Carey, his chin resting on the top of his goaltender's stick. "When I play the best is when something like this happens. You guys ask me if my back-to-back shutouts were the result of Olie starting two games in February. I said, 'No, that's not how it works.'
"But maybe subconsciously, on some kind of competitive level, or maybe it's the juices inside of you, I don't know. But maybe this is my time to shine.
"Maybe it's OK. I've had a rough game. We came out and won and now we're up 1-0. Now they've put me in a situation where I only have to win three out of six. This is a great team.
"I mean, what a bunch of great guys. I go out and mess up and in TC return they pat me on the back and say, hey, now you just have to win three out of six. Sounds a lot better than four out of seven, doesn't it?"
Pub Date: 4/19/96
Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins
Series: Eastern Conference quarterfinal Game 2; Capitals lead best-of-seven series 1-0.
Site: Civic Arena, Pittsburgh
Time: 7: 30
TV/Radio: ESPN/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)