Short-handed Capitals able to tie Leafs, 3-3

Washington earns point even without Bondra, Jagr

January 12, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Even before last night's opening faceoff, it was obvious that this game with the Toronto Maple Leafs was going to be a massive challenge. It would have been difficult on most days for the Capitals, who have been without three key defensive players most of the season.

But last night, it was even harder, because high-scoring forwards Peter Bondra (flu) and Jaromir Jagr (groin) also were scratched.

That was something of a surprise, given coach Ron Wilson's statements Thursday that he was "positive" both players would be well enough to play.

But they didn't, and so the Capitals went into the game at MCI Center against the Eastern Conference's best team short on defense and offense.

The 3-3 tie that emerged just goes to show that miracles can happen.

An hour before the game, Wilson told his players they would be using a two-forward, three-defenseman system it had never practiced, and he was rewarded by the team's most tenacious performance of the season.

"They understood that we had eight defensemen and 10 forwards," said Wilson. "I don't think it would be fair to ask a couple of defensemen to play forward. With the kind of forecheck we like to use anyway, having three defensemen on the ice seemed to make the most sense. It meant [defensemen] Ken Klee and Sergei Gonchar could be more involved in the offense."

The performance was fascinating. And in overtime, Adam Oates, who is on an eight-game point-scoring streak, played like a warrior, setting up at least three scoring chances for teammates right in front of the net, only to see Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph deny them all.

"I thought they played a courageous game," said Toronto coach Pat Quinn. "They changed their style because of the lack of forwards, and they stuck with it and kept bouncing back. In overtime, I wouldn't say their [advantage] was legs. I'd call it brains."

It was a game in which the depleted offense produced enough to earn the tie, and the patched-together defense not only held the Maple Leafs - the NHL's third-most productive team - in check but killed 1:39 of a 5-on-3 power play for Toronto and a major four-minute penalty.

"You look at our lineup, and, really, we had no business being in the game, especially after being down one goal 20 seconds into the game," said Olaf Kolzig, who made 29 saves. "It was by far our grittiest performance. Hopefully, this game is going to get us going in the right direction."

The Capitals, 17-20-8, earned a point, and go to Florida tonight for a rematch against the Panthers, who beat the Caps, 2-1, here Monday.

After falling behind 1-0 and 2-1, the Caps pulled even on goals by Klee, and on the power play with a nice move by Danius Zubrus.

And 1:43 into the third period, the Caps took the lead on the power play on another monster slap shot by Gonchar, who had two goals in the Caps' 6-3 victory over Columbus on Wednesday. As Gonchar set up at the point for this goal, Zubrus and Dmitri Khristich did the dirty work in front of the net that screened goalie Joseph.

The lead lasted almost four minutes before Toronto tied the score, 3-3, on Tomas Kaberle's second goal of the night at 14:21, setting the stage for overtime.

The Capitals can't seem to buckle down until they give up a goal, though. Last night, Toronto's Mikael Renberg scored that first goal against Washington faster than anyone has this season - and that's something, given that 28 others have put a goal on the scoreboard before the Caps in 29 of the previous 44 games. It took Renberg just 21 seconds.

Toronto outshot Washington in that opening period, 14-5, but the Maple Leafs needed a power-play goal by Kaberle at 13:12 to re-take the lead.

Toronto 2 0 1 0 - 3

Washington 1 1 1 0 - 3

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