Caps take wind out of Hurricanes, 7-0

Wash. makes `statement'

division title 2 points away


March 29, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Capitals didn't wait long to get things started last night -- and then they simply kept piling on.

Believing it was important to get back to their winning style of play and show some urgency heading into the final two weeks of the regular season, the Caps struck early in each of the first two periods, forechecked on defense, and recorded a 7-0 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.

"This was as good a game as we've played all year," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig, who made 18 saves for his 20th career shutout and fourth of the season. "You can see, if we're committed to team defense, we're going to get our goals."

That's the way Carolina coach Paul Maurice saw it, too.

"A big bulk of it was how well they played," Maurice said. "They just smothered us in all three zones."

Just a minute, 28 seconds into play, Ulf Dahlen backhanded a pass to Steve Konowalchuk behind the Carolina goal that Konowalchuk, in turn, passed to Jeff Halpern at the top of the slot near the right circle. The Potomac, Md., native, with Hurricanes defenseman Niclas Wallin in his face, unleashed a wrist shot that smoothly found the back of the net.

Just 1:38 into the second period, Dahlen skated across the top of the crease and fired through a screen for a 2-0 lead. And 2:59 later, Andrei Nikolishin scored from an impossible angle, when the puck bounced off defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh's stick and into the net.

All three goals blindsided Carolina goalie Arturs Irbe, leaving him with nothing to do but fish the pucks from the net on the way to his team's third straight loss.

It was the first time the Caps had enjoyed a first-period lead since before their recent string of bad luck had grown to five straight losses. Washington did stop the losing skid at Tampa Bay on Saturday, but had to come from behind to do so.

"We shot intelligently, and in the third period, we never backed off," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "We did all the things we set out to do."

For Washington, last night's first goal was a big goal, and the win even bigger.

The Caps went into last night's game against Sourtheast Division rival Carolina looking to make a statement. Only seven games ago, Washington had a 17-point lead in its division. But since March 11, the Caps had been in a tailspin.

Their 1-5 record since March 13 seemed to come as a surprise to the team, which had been the NHL's best since Dec. 1. The five losses included a number of things the Caps would like to forget: three straight losses at home, where they had excelled; a defensive collapse that forced their Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Olie Kolzig to be yanked twice; and their usually productive offense was shut out twice and goal-starved in three other games.

"Sports," Wilson said. "One night it's there, and the next night it's not. We've won two now. We're playing better. We just have to continue like this. When we get to Carolina [tomorrow], we can relax a little. We know that if we lose, it won't be the end of our season, while Carolina will be even more desperate" [in its playoff quest].

Last night, it was important to make a statement. And what a statement.

Washington got healthy all over before 15,518 fans at MCI Center.

Defenseman Calle Johansson, honored before the game for playing his 1,000th NHL career game last week, scored on a slap shot from just inside the blue line. Beside increasing the Caps' lead to 4-0, that goal made Carolina coach Paul Maurice replace Irbe (21 saves) with Tyler Moss (20 saves).

But Moss found the going just as treacherous, as Peter Bondra (two assists) found Trevor Linden on a break-away and Linden found the inside of the far post for Washington's fifth goal, his first since being acquired from Montreal 17 days ago. In the third period, Halpern scored again, and defenseman Brendan Witt made it 7-0, a season high.

"It just takes awhile," Linden said. "New players, new building, new trainers, but it feels a lot better now."

The Caps go to Carolina tomorrow needing just two more points to clinch the Southeast title and the No. 3 playoff seed.

Carolina 0 0 0 -- 0

Washington 1 4 2 -- 7

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