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Penguins Bondra's last-second goal denies Penguins a victory

Sunday, December 23, 2001

By Dave Molinari, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

WASHINGTON -- If they're like most men, the Penguins will receive a lot of guy stuff over the next few days. Golf shirts and power tools and key chains and slippers and the like.

Washington Capitals' Brendan Witt (19) is checked against the boards by Penguins' John Jakopin (23) in the second period last night in Washington. (Nick Wass, Associated Press)

And, while they might not care for much of it, it's reasonable to assume they won't hate anything as much as the tie they got last night.

The one they had to settle for after coming within .8 of a second of sweeping their weekend series against Washington, only to have Capitals winger Peter Bondra force overtime by tucking a shot inside the right post as regulation was about to run out.

Just that quickly, what looked like the Penguins' second 4-3 victory against Washington in two nights mutated into a 4-4 tie.

"We're not happy with a tie," left winger Dan LaCouture said. "We were winning, 4-1. We should have won that game. A tie feels like a loss."

Disheartening as the outcome was, the Penguins probably wouldn't mind if the league gave them a few more games against Washington as a Christmas present. Or a few dozen, for that matter.

More Penguins Coverage:

Penguins Report: 12/23/01

In the crease
the Post-Gazette's weekly hockey insider
by Dejan Kovacevic


Perhaps a home-and-home series every week for the rest of the regular season. Or two.

After all, the Penguins' past four points came at Washington's expense. Their games against the Capitals this weekend, beginning with a victory at Mellon Arena Friday, have enabled the Penguins to enter their three-day Christmas break with a little momentum and a record (14-15-5-2) that's as close to .500 as you can get without actually being there.

More important, after four dismal losses in a row at home, the Penguins seem to have regained their focus, just as they were in danger of having the Eastern Conference playoff field pull away from them.

"I'm happy with our effort the last two games," Coach Rick Kehoe said.

He would have been positively delighted if Washington hadn't been able to manufacture the tying goal off a faceoff in the Penguins' zone with 4.9 seconds left in the third period. Capitals center Adam Oates won a draw cleanly from Robert Lang of the Penguins, pulling the puck back to Sergei Gonchar at the right point.

Gonchar shot, Bondra collected the rebound and tossed the puck off goalie Johan Hedberg's glove and into the net.

"It was a little bit lucky," Bondra said. "I don't think I had any other chance but to bank it in."

Still, for the second night in a row, the Capitals got back into the game by virtue of third-period power plays. They had three unanswered ones in the third last night, four Friday.

"Maybe we were a little bit undisciplined," Hedberg said. "And maybe [the referees] see stuff that I don't see."

Hedberg had a meltdown of his own after Washington's Chris Simon scored during a power-play scrum at 14:24 of the third, inadvertently striking linesman Jonny Murray in the back while gesturing at a referee about the abuse he had absorbed in the crease.

"I didn't see him at all," Hedberg said. "I'm sorry about that. ... I was too pumped up. I'm very sorry that it happened."

Hedberg was not penalized, and there's no indication that the league plans any action against him, although the many facets of Rule 41, which covers abuse of officials, can be open to interpretation.

The Penguins couldn't have foreseen the game coming to such a conclusion when it began so well for them.

Lang gave them a 1-0 lead when he snapped a wrist shot between the legs of Capitals goalie Olaf Kolzig from the right dot at 16:05 of the first, and Stephane Richer lashed a slap shot through traffic and past Kolzig just 49 seconds later.

Johan Hedberg stops the Capitals' Peter Bondra last night in the final period. Bondra later scored to send the game into overtime. (Nick Wass, Associated Press)

Wayne Primeau, who had managed just five points in his first 27 games and had been shut out in the previous six, recorded his first multiple-point game of the season by picking up assists on both goals.

Jaromir Jagr cut the Penguins lead to 2-1 by beating Hedberg from between the left circle and crease 30 seconds into the second period, but Kris Beech -- the centerpiece of the package the Penguins got for Jagr -- made it 3-1 when he beat Kolzig with a slap shot from the blue line at 13:58.

Alexei Kovalev's goal from the bottom of the right circle at 16:28 gave the Penguins a three-goal cushion that seemed safe, but Oates sliced it to two when he steered a Brendan Witt shot between Hedberg's legs at 18:06.

Simon's man-advantage goal at 14:24 put Washington in position to try to salvage a tie as time ran down, and Bondra made the most of that opportunity.

"We should be proud in a game like this to steal a point from them," Bondra said. "Why not?"

He has a point. Which, from the Penguins' perspective, is one more than the Capitals should have gotten.

"It's definitely frustrating when you come to somebody else's building and take a 4-1 lead and finish with a tie," Kovalev said.

And while the Penguins insist they aren't going to let the point that got away sour their break, chances are it will show up in their nightmares once or twice over the next few days.

"It would have made it that much sweeter, the three days off, because it would have meant that we regrouped," said utilityman John Jakopin, who had his first two-point game in the NHL. "Not to say that we haven't. I think we got hosed. We played a good game."

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