WASHINGTON -- Adam Oates was worried. He wanted to shoot high on his breakaway. And he thought to himself, "Don't mess this up."
Oates didn't mess it up. He shot low at the last possible moment, slipping the puck into the back of the net and starting the Washington Capitals on their way to a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
"Oatesy put the puck in and lifted us up," said Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who assisted on the goal that broke a 1-1 tie in the second period.
Goalie Olie Kolzig helped the Caps keep the lead. With Esa Tikkanen holding Ottawa's leading scorer, Alexei Yashin, to one assist, Kolzig stopped 36 of 38 shots.
"We know if we win the rest of our home games, we'll go to the finals," Kolzig said. "No series is won or lost in the first game, but we've got a step on them."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be played at the MCI Center tomorrow night.
The Capitals had beaten Ottawa just once in eight regular-season meetings over the past two years and averaged less than a goal a game in the process. But that was against backup goalie Ron Tugnutt. Last night, it was Damian Rhodes, who got the start based on the way he outplayed New Jersey's Martin Brodeur in the Senators' first-round upset.
But Rhodes was beaten by rookie Richard Zednik, who scored just after a power play had ended, by Oates on the breakaway, by Peter Bondra, who produced his first goal of the postseason, and by Brian Bellows.
"Which one of those are you going to blame on Rhodes?" Oates asked, coming to the defense of the Ottawa goalie, who stopped 13 of 17 shots. "We've had a tough time scoring goals all season. HTC But right now we've got our whole lineup ready to play."
After the Caps forged ahead 4-1 on Bellows' goal, Ottawa coach Jacques Martin pulled Rhodes and sent in Tugnutt. He faced seven shots, some point-blank, and emerged unscathed.
"Having chased Rhodes from the game might be to Ottawa's advantage," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "Tugger always plays well against us. I have a feeling we'll see a lot of Ron Tugnutt in the next game. But it was a good night for us."
Ottawa scored first, a short-handed goal by Daniel Alfredsson at 12: 21 of the first period. The Caps, however, answered 56 seconds later, with Zednik's goal.
Ottawa.... 1 0 1 -- 2
Washington 1 1 2 -- 4
First period--1, Ottawa, Alfredsson 4 (Gardiner), 12: 21 (sh). 2, Washington, Zednik 2 (Nikolishin, Johansson), 13: 17.
Second period--3, Washington, Oates 4 (Gonchar), 4: 03.
Third period--4, Washington, Bondra 1 (Johansson), 2: 39. 5, Washington, Bellows 3 (Hunter, Juneau), 4: 25. 6, Ottawa, Dackell 1 (Yashin, Alfredsson), 7: 12 (pp).
Shots on goal--Ottawa 14-12-12--38. Washington 8-6-9--23. Power-play opportunities--Ottawa 1 of 5; Washington 0 of 2. Goalies--Ottawa, Rhodes 4-3 (17 shots-13 saves), Tugnutt (4: 25 third, 6-6). Washington, Kolzig 5-2 (38-36). A--17,941 (19,740).
Pub Date: 5/08/98