Bondra 1st and last for Capitals

Early, late goals sink Panthers, 2-1

January 25, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Peter Bondra may not be going to the NHL All-Star Game, but no one could tell that last night as the Washington Capitals' right wing scored twice to lead his team to a meaningful, 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.

Bondra's 26th goal of the season delighted him so much that he hopped up and down like a little boy in a candy shop. No one could have guessed it was the 56th time in his career that he had scored the winning goal. He seemed as delighted as if it were his first.

"Always it feels like the first time because you never know if you'll get another one," Bondra said after his third-period goal stood up as the game-winner. "And it felt good because Florida played so well. It was coming down to the team that would get the better break would win."

The victory maintained the Capitals' lead over the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division and stretched the team's newest winning streak to two games. The streak, short as it may be, is welcomed by Washington, which was 4-5-1 before last night in January.

And Capitals coach Ron Wilson had no trouble pointing out that the pressure is squarely on his team to perform.

"We're in a battle with Carolina and, if they overtake us, Boston is moving up," said Wilson, referring to the fact that if the Capitals do not win the division title they then will be in a dogfight with others in the conference for the remaining five playoff spots that don't go to division winners.

"Florida did play better," Wilson said. "The last time we played them here, they were very frustrated and our power play buried them.

"Tonight, our power play wasn't as effective and they're at a place [battling Tampa Bay for fourth place in the five-team division] where they can loosen up and play. They feel free to take chances and go for their best. The pressure was all on us."

Re-emerging under the direction of new coach Duane Sutter, the Panthers didn't start fast, giving up a power-play goal to Bondra just 59 seconds into the game, but before they were finished they had thrown a bit of a scare into the MCI Center crowd of 16,780."[It was a] pretty good hockey game. Both teams had good scoring chances," said Sutter, who is dealing with a team that is 2-25-7-6 when it allows opposing teams two or more goals.

"We can't bury our heads in the sand. `Keep battling, battling, compete like that and you're not going to lose many games.' I keep saying that to the guys. Eventually, the odds, something, has to change."

By the early minutes of the third period last night, Florida had established the impression that these were not the same old Panthers the Capitals have enjoyed feasting on over the past year.

Before last night, the Caps could look at the record books and see they had won the last five meetings between the clubs, including a lopsided, 5-2 victory earlier this season.

This time, the Panthers went toe-to-toe with the best face-off team in the league, and won that battle, 31-23. And when Mike Sillinger tied the score at 1 at 9:48 of the second, Washington knew it would have to pick up the pace.

"But," said Bondra, "we realized. `Hey, if we want to move forward, we have to score a goal.' And you almost know you're going to get it, you know? We had the confidence. We could feel the goal was going to come."

It came with 8:14 gone in the final period. The goal, and the play of goalie Olie Kolzig, who made 31 saves, including 11 in the final period, erased any lingering doubt.

The game was just 31 seconds old when Florida's Viktor Kozlov was called for tripping to put Washington on the power play. And power play it was, as Bondra put the home team on the board at the 59-second mark.

But that play, much as the play throughout the first two periods, happened at a sedate pace. Caps winger Dmitri Khristich passed across ice to Bondra in the right circle and the team's leading goal-scorer took his time before unloading a slap shot that streaked past Florida goalie Roberto Luongo.

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