Capitals' late slumber continues in 6-4 defeat

Loss to red-hot Devils is 8th in past 10 games

April 04, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Hurtling toward the postseason in something of a free-fall, the Washington Capitals had hoped to find their equilibrium last night against the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils.

The Caps had beaten the Devils twice this season, and if they could get their forechecking back, if they could get the little things in their game clicking, if they could connect with crisp passes and stay with the game plan, they knew they could win on the home ice at MCI Center.

But it was a lot of ifs with which to contend. And though the Caps seemed to right themselves near the end of the first period and through all but a minute of the second, they could not sustain it long enough to beat the Devils and lost, 6-4.

It was Washington's eighth loss in its past 10 games.

"To be truthful, the attitude in the locker room after this game was morbid," said team captain Adam Oates. "This is not how we expected the last two weeks of the season to go. We've talked about it. But you've got to do it on the ice."

For the most part, it was the Devils who did it.

Patrick Elias scored the first of his three goals of the night at 4:25, when a pass bounced into the net off defenseman Joe Reekie's leg. His second came with just 17 seconds left in the second period and was a killer because it came just 22 seconds after Bob Corkum had scored to tie the game at 3.

Elias' goal simply took away all the momentum the Caps had generated off goals by Sergei Gonchar, Trevor Linden and Andre Nikolishin and dumped it on the Devils' bench.

"That last shift of the second period, basically, it cost us the game," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "Some simple mistakes by people you would hope wouldn't make those mistakes at this time of the year. We've got to fix those mistakes, that's all.

"We shouldn't be turning the puck over in our own end. We shouldn't be turning the puck over in the neutral zone."

The Caps emerged determined to fight back in the third period. But, said Reekie, they might have pushed too much.

"Our guys were going for the equalizer and they got the puck and scored," said Reekie, referring to Elias' third goal, which came 4:16 into the final period. "Any time you give up six goals, it's not what you want, especially when you pride yourself on defense like we do."

The shine has been wearing thin on the Caps' defense. Over the past 10 games, the Caps have given up 32 goals, while scoring 24. Take away seven they scored against Carolina last week, and the Caps have been outgunned 32-17.

"They're not playing really well right now," Elias said. "And we did outwork them tonight. We wanted to win more. We played well-positioned hockey."

The Devils played the kind of hockey the Caps are dreaming of playing again.

"I'd like to say we already made the playoffs and maybe we're having a letdown," Gonchar said. "But we better go out there and polish our game. We're [likely] going to play Pittsburgh in the playoffs. We're going to play Mario [Lemieux] and [Jaromir] Jagr and their other guys. You have to work hard defensively and we're not playing that way."

The Devils have won 17 of their past 19 games and with last night's victory moved two points ahead of Ottawa in the chase for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

While the Caps struggled to regain their footing in the third period, New Jersey simply devastated them. Elias completed his hat trick by finishing a two-on-none breakaway while shorthanded, and then Alexander Mogilny scored to make it 6-3, before Steve Konowalchuk answered for Washington's last goal.

"I think this is all correctable stuff," Wilson said. "We'll go to bed tonight, wake up tomorrow and we're still alive. I'm confident we're going to do very well [in the playoffs]. We're capable of much better, I know that."

The Caps have just three games left in the regular season. They'll play here tomorrow night against Florida, in Buffalo on Friday night and then close out the season here Sunday at 3 p.m. against Tampa Bay.

New Jersey 2 2 2 - 6

Washington 1 2 1 - 4

First period - 1, New Jersey, Elias 36 (Nemchinov, Rafalski), 4:25. 2, New Jersey, Holik 15 (Stevens), 14:41. 3, Washington, Gonchar 19 (Halpern), 16:07. Penalties - Elias, NJ (slashing), 8:44; Marshall, Was (slashing), 8:44.

Second period - 4, Washington, Linden 15, 6:28. 5, Washington, Nikolishin 13 (Oates, Gonchar), 9:21 (pp). 6, New Jersey, Corkum 7, 19:20. 7, New Jersey, Elias 37 (Sykora, Nemchinov), 19:42. Penalties - Simon, Was (roughing), 2:41; Sutton, NJ (slashing), 8:00; White, NJ (holding), 8:00; Whitfield, Was (slashing), 16:56.

Third period - 8, New Jersey, Elias 38 (Sykora), 4:16 (sh). 9, New Jersey, Mogilny 43 (Gomez, Brylin), 9:50. 10, Washington, Konowalchuk 22 (Gonchar, Whitfield), 12:45. Penalties - Nemchinov, NJ (tripping), 3:17; Sacco, Was (hooking), 13:29. Shots on goal - New Jersey 9-18-8-35. Washington 6-9-11-26. Power-play opportunities - New Jersey 0 of 3; Washington 1 of 3. Goalies - New Jersey, Brodeur 40-17-11 (26 shots-22 saves). Washington, Kolzig 35-26-8 (35-29). A - 17,523 (18,672).

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