Olaf Kolzig usually plays better when he faces a barrage of shots. That's a good thing for the Washington Capitals, because Olie the Goalie can expect to be a busy man in the Stanley Cup finals.
Kolzig is the main reason why the Capitals are in the finals for the first time in their 24-year existence. A backup just a year ago, Kolzig has allowed only 31 goals in 17 playoff games thus far, an impressive average of just 1.82 goals per game.
But now he must face the Detroit Red Wings, who have the top four point-scorers in the playoffs sharpshooters Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom, Sergei Fedorov and Tomas Holmstrom.
Bring it on, boys.
Halfway through Game 6 of the Capitals-Buffalo series, the Sabres were outshooting Washington 20-10. Capitals coach Ron Wilson wasn't worried; in fact, he sort of liked the way things were going.
"I thought, `We're kind of comfortable playing these types of games where we're struggling a little bit.' Olie's into it, he's seeing a lot of pucks so he's comfortable," Wilson said. "The more action, the more he's into it and he gets sharp."
Kolzig allowed only two goals in 66-plus minutes in Game 6, and Washington won in overtime. Game 1 of the finals will be held Tuesday night in Detroit.
The Capitals on many occasions in the past were victimized in the playoffs by a hot goaltender, but this time Washington seems to have one on its side. Kolzig, however, refused to accept the label.
"I never really believed I was the hot goaltender," he said. "I was a confident goaltender. I thought the way I played in regular season carried over into the postseason. People are going to call you what they want, but my teammates believe in me and I believe in them, and that's all that really matters."
Kolzig won't be able to beat the Red Wings by himself, although the Capitals give him credit for lifting him past the Boston Bruins in the opening round when Washington was badly outshot in virtually every game.
"We have to be ready," forward Joe Juneau said. "We just have to keep playing better and better. Against Boston we weren't playing our best hockey, and Olaf Kolzig kept us in the series. Against Ottawa we played better, and against Buffalo we turned it up a notch."
Having worked so hard to advance to the finals for the first time, the Capitals are in perfect position to suffer a huge letdown. But the players know that winning the Stanley Cup is the only way this season can be considered a complete success.
"We won our (conference) and now we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. We have to remember that we have a lot of work to do," forward Chris Simon said. "We're not satisfied with being second. We want to be No. 1, and we know we have to keep playing the same way."
©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed