Originally created 04/22/01

Lemieux puts Penguins in command

WASHINGTON -- All it took was half a minute of Mario Lemieux to put the Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination.

Lemieux had a goal and an assist in a 31-second span of the first period as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Capitals 2-1 Saturday.

"That was huge," Lemieux said. "Right off the bat, we got off to a good start."

In 94 career playoff games, Lemieux has 161 points. One more victory by the Penguins, the team Lemieux owns, will advance Pittsburgh to the second round.

Pittsburgh, which has won five of the six playoff meetings between the teams, improved to 7-0 against Washington in Game 5s. The Penguins lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can eliminate the Capitals at home Monday night. Game 7, if necessary, would be Tuesday night back in Washington.

"Obviously, it's not over yet," Lemieux said. "It's going to be another battle. They're going to be desperate, and we have to be ready for a hard 60 minutes."

Andrew Ference gave Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead. Sergei Gonchar scored Washington's lone goal in the second.

"For us this was Game 7," said Jaromir Jagr, who with Lemieux set up Ference's goal. "We had to close the door or we would be in big trouble."

Eight of the last nine playoff games between the teams - including six straight from Game 2 last year until Game 2 this year - were decided by one goal. The team that has scored first has won each game of this series.

"That was the key," Jagr said of the quick goals.

Lemieux, who did not record a shot in the 1-0 Game 1 loss, has three goals and three assists in the four games since - adding to the totals accrued before his 31/2-year retirement.

The teams, who combined for seven goals in the first three games before a 4-3 contest in Game 4, returned to a defensive style of play. Pittsburgh had more chances in the first period, before Washington countered in the second.

"One bad shift in the game and they score two goals off it," Capitals coach Ron Wilson said. "Other than that I can't find any flaws in our game except that we couldn't find a way to score."

Washington mounted pressure in the final minute with an extra skater, but couldn't generate many chances.

"The series is not over by any means," Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig said.

"It's not like they outplayed us. We had a couple of big breakdowns in that one-minute span and they capitalized."

A big scrum ensued at the final buzzer. Four misconducts, two on each team, and a major penalty to Jeff Halpern for spearing Pittsburgh's Darius Kasparaitis were called.

"He's cheap-shotting us all game," Halpern said. "Obviously, you get frustrated and you can't do anything about it."

The Penguins took a 1-0 lead on Ference's first career playoff goal. Jagr's shot was stopped, but Kolzig couldn't control the rebound. The puck came out to Ference, who fired a long shot that went past Kolzig's glove 6:35 in.

"I just came off the bench and made a beeline right for the puck and I happened to get it in the right spot," Ference said.

Lemieux didn't let Washington's towel-waving fans fully absorb the bad news when he made it 2-0 with his 73rd playoff goal. Ference's shot was stopped, and Jan Hrdina managed to get the puck to Lemieux, who scored at 7:06.

"It was a breakdown," Halpern said. "They take a shot from the outside and we were a little scrambly in front. The rebound comes right to Lemieux and he puts it in."

Gonchar cut it to 2-1 midway through the second period with the Capitals' sixth power-play goal of the series. Washington only has one even-strength goal - Halpern's overtime tally in Game 4 - in the series.

"We've got to find a way to score even strength," Wilson said.

After Peter Bondra was stopped in close by rookie goalie Johan Hedberg, the puck was worked around to Gonchar, who fired a shot from the middle of the ice and beat Hedberg at 10:01.

Gonchar, a defenseman, has a goal and three assists on the power play in the series.

Washington captain Adam Oates, who was benched in the third period and overtime of Game 4, played 16:23 Saturday. The 38-year-old center, who tied Jagr for the NHL assist lead in the regular season, played only 8:28 Wednesday.

Pittsburgh, which took only one third-period shot, was outshot 22-18. The one shot matched a playoff low for the Penguins, done one other time against Washington seven years ago.

The Capitals, who had the NHL's second best home power play in the regular season (24.5 percent), were 1-for-3 Saturday against Pittsburgh, which had the worst penalty-killing unit of the 16 playoff teams.

Pittsburgh was denied by goal posts twice, once on a drive by Ian Moran, and another on a Jagr shot in the third period. Washington's Chris Simon also was stopped by the iron.

Notes: Oates, pointless in this series, had at least one point in the previous 24 series. ... Halpern had not been on the ice for an even-strength goal in the first four games matched against Lemieux's line. That ended when he was skating during both Penguins goals. ... Pittsburgh eliminated Washington exactly one year ago with a road victory in Game 5.


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