But nature deemed otherwise.
Experiencing their first NHL Finals series in the franchise's 24 years, the Capitals played tentatively in the first period, made two mistakes and allowed the Detroit Red Wings to tuck away the 2-1 victory.
The defending Stanley Cup champions got goals from Joe Kocur and Nicklas Lidstrom and then withstood a furious third-period comeback attempt by the Capitals, who found their legs and their attitude.
Game 2 is scheduled here at Joe Louis Arena tomorrow night at 8 o'clock.
"You can talk all you want, but now the series is started and now we see," said Detroit coach Scotty Bowman. "Washington played a good game give them credit. They're down by a quick couple of goals in the first period and it might have been -- well Washington's record in the playoffs shows it doesn't matter what kind of game is going on. If the scoreboard shows them within a goal, that gives them what they need. They definitely believed they could come back and tie the game and win in overtime.
"Sometimes, you pay. Tonight we didn't."
The Caps tried to make Detroit pay. A goal by rookie Richard Zednik at 15: 57 of the second period seemed to get them started.
As goalie Olie Kolzig was busy making 29 saves, including stops on Steve Yzerman and Vyacheslav Kozlov on his doorstep late in the final period, his teammates attacked Detroit's Chris Osgood.
On the bench, coach Ron Wilson was yelling, 'You can win!" and over the last 10 minutes Washington looked as if it could.
"It was strange," said Detroit's Sergei Fedorov. "They hardly try and then all of a sudden they come up with a goal, then it is a different picture at 2-1."
Joe Juneau, Sergei Gonchar, Brian Bellows, Chris Simon and Andrei Nikolishin all took terrific shots, only to see Osgood make the saves down the stretch.
"I think we were tight and showed the effects of the layoff between series," said Wilson. "We're a better team when we get in the rhythm of playing every other day. Now we know we can play. We were a little cautious. We read we're supposed to be blasted out of here five or six to nothing and that didn't happen.
"But we need more people to play like Dale Hunter. Not that he was generating a lot of chances, but he was playing with passion. He was going to the net hard and drew some penalties. And he came to play every single shift. We need that from everybody if we are going to beat Detroit."
The Caps got in trouble about 10 minutes into the first period, when Tomas Holmstrom won the puck in a scrum along the boards in the Caps' zone and got it out to Doug Brown.
Brown one-timed it toward the net, where Kocur arrived at the far side of the net just in time to connect with the puck in the crease and beat Kolzig.
Two minutes later, Holmstrom planted himself in front of Kolzig and held his ground while fending off Calle Johansson and Adam Oates. With the three of them providing a perfect screen, Lidstrom let go a slap shot from the point that again blindsided the Caps goalie with the name Godzilla written across his helmet.
When the Caps' big goalie finally saw the puck, it was resting comfortably in the net behind him and the sold-out crowd at Joe Louis Arena was going crazy, raising a sign that said "Zap Zilla" and chanting "Olie, Olie, Olie" -- and it wasn't exactly supportive.
"They scored twice on a couple of bad plays," said Juneau. "And as soon, really, as they got the first goal, we start panicking we start giving the puck away We've just got to believe in ourselves a little more."
"Once we were down 2-0, it took us a little while to get going again," Wilson said. "It was a little overwhelming. But we hung in long enough that we started believing we could come back."
Zednik's goal from Nikolishin and Bondra at 4: 03 of the second period started it, but the Caps couldn't find a way to beat Osgood for another.
"I think we were all a little nervous at the start," said Washington's Hunter. "We settled down and played pretty good hockey. We just have to capitalize on a couple of the scoring chances."
& Washington vs. Detroit
(Detroit leads series 1-0)
Date Res./Site Time .. ..TV
Yest. Detroit, 2-1
Tom. at Det. 8 .. .. ..ESPN
Sat. at Wash. 8 .. .. .ESPN
Tue. at Wash. 8 .. .. .ESPN
6/18 at Det. 8* .. .. ..Fox
6/20 at Wash. 8* .. ...ESPN
6/23 at Det. 8* .. .. ..Fox
Pub Date: 6/10/98