Caps miss the point vs. Sabres in OT, 3-2

Barnes scores 2, negating Washington's strong effort

teams now tied for 11th

Hockey

January 28, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Jaromir Jagr fought hard for position and puck possession behind the Buffalo net, with Sabre Rhett Warrener hanging all over his back and poking at the puck with his stick along the boards. Adam Oates was there, too, blocking another Sabre. Finally, after what seemed like minutes of determined work, Jagr emerged with the puck and made a pass in front of the crease.

The puck hit Buffalo's Jay McKee and bounced to Peter Bondra, who backhanded it into the net to give the Washington Capitals a one-goal lead with 4:18 remaining in the third period.

It was the kind of play that could make the difference in a season. The kind of play that could inspire hope in a team desperate to turn the season around and eke out a playoff spot.

Maybe there will still be a turnaround and maybe the postseason will be a part of the Caps' future, but it won't be because of that play. With 52.4 seconds left in the game, Buffalo's Miroslav Satan tied the score, and with 1:30 gone in overtime, Stu Barnes (two goals) won it when he redirected the puck past Washington goalie Olie Kolzig for a 3-2 victory.

"We always find a way to lose," said Jagr, one of few Capitals who didn't hurry into seclusion. "A bad break ... in overtime, bad bounce. When you're losing, you've got to get a streak going and think about how it's going to turn things the other way. But even when we get the lead, it's like we start thinking they will score."

Going into the game, Buffalo (22-25-4-1) was one point behind Washington (20-25-8-1) in the Eastern Conference standings. That would be one point out of 11th place. Today, they're tied for that spot, three points from the last playoff spot.

So maybe it is the Buffalo Sabres who will begin to turn their season around because of what happened at MCI Center yesterday.

"This was a great game for us," said Barnes, who was a little stunned by his good fortune of being in the right place to redirect the puck past Kolzig. "Every game is huge for us. Any kind of momentum, any streak helps establish our confidence. I think we're headed in the right direction."

In the Washington locker room, no one was saying that, even though there were positives.

Kolzig (31 saves) played another strong game despite getting hit in the side of the face with a puck. The Caps got the lead on a goal by Jagr, who skated from behind the net to be in perfect position to beat goalie Martin Biron (29 saves) at 7:14 of the second period.

Barnes tied it at 12:21, and that's how it stayed until Bondra scored. And the sold-out crowd of 18,672 had every reason to believe the advantage would stand. And surely the team would prevail in overtime. Going into yesterday's game, the Caps had the best overtime record in the NHL (5-0-8).

But that's not the way it turned out. Caps coach Ron downplayed any negative thinking. "We didn't feel any impending doom. ... We had two great chances right at the end of regulation and even a chance in overtime," he said. "Jagr was having an unbelievable game. We just couldn't finish off the chances that we created and particularly the ones he created."

But the locker room was cloaked in worry. Even Kolzig, who usually can find a positive, was close to speechless.

"We had the lead and we were playing a team behind us in the standings," he said. "We're desperate to get the win and we did not find a way. It's real frustrating. I don't know, I really don't know what to say."

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