Caps try to shore up strong but ailing 'D' After taking shot off foot, Johnson is questionable


PITTSBURGH -- Washington Capitals defenseman Jim Johnson spent yesterday's practice lying on the training table, getting his foot massaged.

For the Capitals, already down to five defensemen, it was not a good sign.

It looked even worse when the new sticks showed up. The ones with the names Tertyshny and Boileau taped around them.

That would be Sergei Tertyshny and Patrick Boileau of the Portland Pirates. Later, the Caps would announce defenseman Nolan Baumgartner, whose Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League have finished their season, also is on his way.

"They're here to get a taste of what the NHL playoffs are like," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld, noting that Portland, 1-1 in its best-of-five AHL series with Worcester, doesn't have a game until Friday. "They're here to get a feel for the big-league playoffs, and so, in case we do need them, they'll know what they're in for."

And then Schoenfeld said he may, indeed, need one of them tonight in Game 3 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Johnson blocked a shot by Mario Lemieux late in Game 2 Friday. Yesterday, he had it X-rayed, and Schoenfeld said the team is waiting for the radiologist to read the results.

Joe Reekie was the last Capitals defenseman to block a shot with his foot against Pittsburgh, and Reekie's foot was broken. Schoenfeld said there is a chance Johnson's is fractured, too.

"But it's in a place where he still may be able to play," Schoenfeld said.

The coach said that Johnson is questionable, but that if his pain is reduced as much over last night as it did in the previous 24 hours, he would be upgraded to probable.

Johnson said he hopes to play.

"My feets is fine," he said, smiling, before wedging them into his skates to see how they really felt.

"Feels good," Johnson said, walking around, biting his lower lip. "No, really, it's not too bad."

But even if it is too bad, there is a feeling pervading the Capitals that they will overcome.

After taking a 2-0 lead in the series against the heavily favored Penguins, captain Dale Hunter was asked, "Is the Earth flat?" Hunter considered for an instant and nodded. "I think it is," he said.

The Capitals, with five players who are playing in their first NHL playoff series and without eight key players, have found a way: To keep the NHL's two leading scorers, Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, off the scoreboard.

To move their power-play unit, 22nd best in the regular season, into first place through two games in the postseason, with four goals in 11 tries for a 36.4 percent rate. During the regular season, Pittsburgh was No. 1.

To produce 11 goals, the most by any NHL team in two games. Joe Juneau has assisted on six, tops in the postseason, while playing solid defense. Peter Bondra and Michal Pivonka each have four points, two goals each. Sergei Gonchar is tied for second among defensive scoring leaders.

To get stunning play from new arrivals Andrew Brunette, who has two assists, and defensemen Steve Poapst and Eric Charron.

To earn two wins with backup goalie Olie Kolzig playing brilliantly in place of Jim Carey. The Caps are holding the Penguins nearly a goal below their 4.4 average.

"People are calling it a miracle," said Pivonka. "I don't see it that way. We're not perfect, but we're not giving them anything down low. Our 'D' is doing its job, Olie's played great and all our forwards are working hard not to give them much space.

"But we've got to continue to respect all their talent."

Schoenfeld would not reveal his starting goaltender for tonight. But game-plan focus continues to be on keeping Lemieux and Jagr off the scoreboard.

"We're checking real hard and we're trying to back-check just as hard because they have such great talent," said Caps left wing Kelly Miller. "Our young guys have come up and have exceeded expectations and we're playing great team hockey."

Pub Date: 4/22/96

Capitals tonight

Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 3 (Caps lead series, 2-0)

Opponent: Pittsburgh Penguins

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7: 30

TV/Radio: Ch. 50, Baltimore County Ch. 43; Howard County, Ch. Baltimore City, check TCI listing/WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

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