LANDOVER -- So, you thought this NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal series would be a sweep? In the Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins series? Not these two teams. These two love going at it over the long haul. It's the way they play the game.
For two games, the Capitals, with tremendous team play and goaltending from Olie Kolzig, made Pittsburgh pay for its defensive lapses and cockiness.
But last night, the Penguins had no lapses and won, 4-1, with goalie Tom Barrasso making 37 saves and coming within a Sylvain Cote shot from the point on Washington's 10th power play of collecting his fifth postseason shutout.
"I think we played pretty solid for 60 minutes, even though in the third we got only one shot," said Mario Lemieux, who assisted on the four Pittsburgh goals by Ron Francis (power play), Glen Murray, Dave Roche and Kevin Miller.
"It was the type of game that we sat back and played well defensively, and that is the way we have to play -- especially in this building," Lemieux said. "That's the way we won big games in the past. That's the way we played."
It's the way the Capitals played for two games in Pittsburgh, but last night, with hard-luck goalie Jim Carey in the net, the Capitals had a lapse.
Which didn't seem to throw them off their mission.
"We know they're one of the best offensive teams in the league," said Capitals center Michal Pivonka. "We knew it wasn't going to be a sweep."
But there is no doubt Washington would like to do better by Carey, who was nearly perfect in the Capitals' season-ending run into the playoffs.
Game 1, he was pulled after Pittsburgh had taken a 4-1 lead. Kolzig came in to anchor the 6-4 comeback win. Kolzig started Game 2, winning, 5-3, and benefited from solid team defense around him.
And last night, with Carey trying again for his first win this series, the Capitals' defense gave up numerous two-on-one breaks, one five-on-two and would have seen Lemieux streak in all alone at least once if referee Bill McCreary hadn't been directly in his path and brought him up short at the red line.
The result is that the Penguins have tightened the series to one game, with Game 4 here tomorrow. Pittsburgh is trying to become only the 10th team in NHL history to win a playoff series after losing the first two games at home.
Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld decided to go with Carey for the usual reason, "We thought we could win with him." But afterward, both coach and player said Carey, who had 15 saves, was not "at the top of his game."
Pittsburgh scored on its first and third shots while being outshot 10-3 in the first period.
"When you're at the top of your game, you're going to shut them out," said Carey. "It was another big game and we've got to win the game at hand. It would have been big tonight, but so will be the next one. And it might turn out to be a good thing. We might have gotten away from our game a little bit."
The Penguins, no doubt, had had enough of reading in their hometown newspapers about how dumb they were for not protecting a lead. Last night, they threw big checks and played defense. They made Peter Bondra disappear and the little team, which still believes it can, for this one game couldn't.
Pittsburgh made it look alarmingly easy.
"They were a different team tonight, sure," said Capitals defenseman Jimmy Johnson, who played despite an injured foot. "Lemieux had a great game. He killed us. But we did some things that made it easier for them. We didn't play as well defensively. We allowed too big a gap between our forwards and our defensemen and we didn't get in their faces enough in the neutral zone."
The result was a disappointment for the announced sellout crowd at USAir Arena, which began serious departure moves with 9: 44 to play.
That meant many of them were in the parking lot at 9: 06 when the very physical game erupted into an all-out fight, with all 10 skaters dropping their gloves and sticks.
When the melee was over, Barrasso sorted out the equipment spread in front of him and the officials sorted out 26 minutes of penalties. The end result was that the Capitals got their 10th power-play opportunity of the night.
And, 25 seconds before it was over, Pat Peake won a faceoff in the Penguins' zone and Cote blasted the shot from the point, through Barrasso's pads.
NOTES: Capitals rookie Nolan Baumgartner suited up last night and played. . . . The Caps announced that Game 4 tomorrow will be carried throughout the Baltimore area on TCI Channel 72 in Baltimore, Channel 43 in Baltimore County and Channel 40 in Howard County.
Pub Date: 4/23/96