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An opening to shut Caps down

The Lightning has its first opportunity to advance to the second round today and would rather not rely on a second chance.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 20, 2003


WASHINGTON -- Captain Dave Andreychuk, 39 and with 21 seasons of NHL experience on which to draw, said it is time for the Lightning to put the Capitals out of their misery.

Stomp 'em. Romp 'em. Crush 'em like a bug.

Tampa Bay, leading three games to two in the East quarterfinals, needs one victory in the best-of-seven series to advance to the conference semifinals against the Devils.

And as nice as it would be to clinch in front of the home fans on Tuesday, it is much better and safer to finish things off in Game6 today at the MCI Center.

"I think we need that killer instinct," Andreychuk said Saturday. "We need to realize when you have a team down, you make sure you continue to apply the pressure on them."

That should make even more uncomfortable the sore necks the Capitals have developed trying to keep track of water-buggin' Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis.

After winning the first two games at the St. Pete Times Forum, Washington has lost three in a row, including two at home. All the more ammunition for naysayers who know the Capitals have lost three two-game playoff leads since 1992 and two in which they led 2-0.

And all the more reason, Andreychuk said, to come out strong and get the first goal, which has meant victory in each game.

"The first 10 minutes are important in this game," he said. "We're going to try to get their fans out of it."

Andreychuk knows that lesson can be applied to any opponent. He does, however, have direct knowledge of a series in which the opponent had Jaromir Jagr.

It is not an experience he wants to repeat.

Andreychuk's Devils, the No.1 seed in the East, had Jagr's eighth-seeded Penguins down three games to two in the 1999 conference quarterfinals.

Jagr scored with 2:12 remaining in the third period to send Game6 into overtime, and again 8:59 into the extra period for a 3-2 victory. His two assists in Game7 in New Jersey helped Pittsburgh steal the series with a 4-2 win.

Oh, and as if Jagr needs an extra motivation this year, he hasn't scored for the Capitals since his two goals in Game2.

"The word that I've passed is we have to concentrate for 60 minutes against them, and to make sure when the final buzzer sounds, that's when we stop checking him," Andreychuk said.

In other words, the Lightning wants to stick to the game plan.

"We're just going to play another game," coach John Tortorella said. "We're just trying to stay within the team concept and play."

After the first two games at the Times Forum, during which many Lightning players admitted nerves got the best of them, Tampa Bay has been remarkably patient, waiting for the Capitals to make mistakes and capitalizing.

The team also has been very good protecting the slot and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who faced only five shots in the third period of Game5.

"We're playing like a team should in the playoffs," center Tim Taylor said. "We're making big plays at big times and limiting them to nothing in the third period, which is a huge bonus when you play at this time of year."

The Capitals will try to stay within their team concept while adding a touch of desperation. Especially from players such as Jagr, Sergei Gonchar and Robert Lang, who have fallen silent since Washington's nine-goal outburst in the first two games combined.

"Their backs are against the wall and they're not going to lay down," Lightning associate coach Craig Ramsay said. "We expect them to come out with everything they've got. The key for us is to elevate our game to the highest level you've got. We have to go in there trying to win and not playing not to lose."

"Let's see how they respond," Jagr said. "Eighty percent of teams that win Game6 end up winning Game7. That's the way we have to think about it."

The Lightning has to think about not letting it get that far.

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