WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals, perfecting minimalist hockey, moved into the Eastern Conference finals last night for only the second time in franchise history, earning a meeting with the Buffalo Sabres.
A second-period goal by Joe Juneau and another sterling performance by goalie Olie Kolzig were all the Caps needed, but Sergei Gonchar added a breathing-room, power-play goal with 1: 26 left in the third and Calle Johansson scored into an empty net with 17.5 seconds to play as the Caps beat the Ottawa Senators, 3-0, and set off a massive celebration among the sellout crowd of 19,740 at the MCI Center.
"Obviously, this is a huge accomplishment for the whole organization, not just me," Kolzig said. "All I did was go out and try to give my guys a chance to win. Tonight, I thought we did our best defensive job against them."
The victory clinched the semifinal series, four games to one, and set up a showdown between Kolzig and Buffalo's Dominik Hasek, the two most dominating goalies this postseason.
Kolzig recorded his second consecutive shutout last night, running his shutout streak to 149 minutes, 6 seconds. It was his third shutout of the playoffs. The win, his eighth in the postseason, broke the franchise record for playoff wins in a season, set by Pete Peeters in 1987-88.
The Eastern Conference finals will start in Washington no earlier than Thursday.
Washington and Ottawa played an intense first period and were even on the scoreboard until the 2: 39 mark of the second period. It was then that Phil Housley unleashed a shot from the point. That shot was blocked by Ottawa goalie Damian Rhodes, who also stopped two put-back attempts by left wing Brian Bellows.
Unfortunately for Ottawa, the last rebound went to Juneau on the right, and the Caps' center lifted the puck with a hard forehand into the back of the net.
No one knew at the time that this would be the game-winner that would clinch the best-of-seven series -- though Juneau said that, with the way Kolzig has played, "I was pretty confident it would stand up if we didn't make any mistakes."
At the opposite end of the ice, Kolzig prepared for the onslaught he knew was coming. Seconds later, he was making a face-mask save on a shot Daniel Alfredsson and then a glove save on one by Alexei Yashin. Then, he got his body in front of Alfredsson again.
Before the period ended, he would see his team outshot, 17-1, and make every save.
All together, Kolzig stopped 29 shots last night.
The series win marked the first time the Caps have advanced to the third round of postseason play since 1989-90.
"I was here when we last made the conference final," said Michal Pivonka. "And I think our team then was as good as this one. But the difference is the way Olie is playing. With a goalie like Olie -- or Hasek -- you're not necessarily outplaying the other team every night, but you know if you play good defense, you'll win."
Pub Date: 5/16/98