Caps spill Blackhawks, keep alive slim hopes

Carolina needs 1 point to clinch Southeast title


April 10, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The rope is fraying, but the Washington Capitals are holding on.

Nothing but a win against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Western Conference's fourth-best team, could keep the Capitals alive in the NHL playoff hunt last night at MCI Center.

Tonight, nothing but a loss by the Carolina Hurricanes can keep them alive tomorrow.

The Capitals did their part. Playing with urgency, Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar and center Dainius Zubrus scored first-period goals, goalie Olie Kolzig made 32 saves and the Caps beat the Blackhawks, 3-1.

"No questions about being out of the playoffs until we're officially out," Kolzig before anyone could ask a question after the game. "We did our job tonight. We won. We've got to hope Tampa [does its] job and beats Carolina and just go from there. That's the situation we are in, not a fun situation to be in, but at least we gave ourselves a chance.

"And whatever happens, we want to play with pride and give our best effort. We haven't done that all year - well, I won't say all year, but for parts of the year."

Washington is 8-2-1 in its past 11 games, but over that span of wonderful play it could gain no ground on Montreal, which is also 8-2-1 in its past 11. The Canadiens held on to beat Ottawa, 4-3, last night to clinch the eighth Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"Everybody is winning right now, and that's tough for us," said Jaromir Jagr. "We had a bad start, a bad hockey season and we're paying for it."

Montreal's win puts the Capitals in the unhappy position of depending on Tampa Bay, Florida and Atlanta - the three worst teams in the conference - to help get them into the postseason.

The Hurricanes (84 points) need just one point to clinch the title, but should those three teams beat Carolina over the next five days and should the Capitals beat Buffalo and New Jersey on Friday and Saturday nights, Washington would not only sneak into the playoffs, but also be the third seed as the Southeast Division champion.

In the event everything goes Washington's way, and the two teams wind up tied in points, the Caps would win the title because they would have more victories.

"I don't think we have life now," said Jagr, voicing a realistic view. "I think we would have had more of a chance if Montreal had lost tonight. But Montreal has a great team and their goaltender [Jose Theodore, who has the second-best goals-against average in the league] is just awesome."

Jagr said he might not watch tonight's game between Carolina and Tampa Bay.

"I was watching all the games and it wasn't good luck," he said. "Maybe I'll try something else this time."

Washington's first-period goals both came from players attacking the front of the Chicago net. Gonchar and Zubrus were coming up the slot when the puck arrived on their sticks.

Zubrus delivered the puck to Gonchar for the first goal, and Jagr delivered it to Zubrus for the second. Along the boards, digging out the puck to begin those plays was big Chris Simon, who picked up the second assist on both goals.

The first 15 minutes of the second period was all Kolzig, as the Capitals goalie stoned the Blackhawks' best efforts, while making 13 straight saves, including three on the power play, before his teammates moved the puck to the opposite end of the ice. Once there, Steve Konowalchuk, who had missed 54 games with a shoulder injury, finally scored his first goal of the season for a 3-0 Caps lead with 3:37 left. It was Konowalchuk's first goal since April 8, 2001.

Chicago's Steve Thomas scored with 7:52 gone in the third period to avoid the shutout.

Chicago 0 0 1 - 1

Washington 2 1 0 - 3

First period - 1, Washington, Gonchar 25 (Zubrus, Simon), 4:07. 2, Washington, Zubrus 16 (Jagr, Simon), 14:02. Penalty-Daze, Chi (high-sticking), 10:00.

Second period - 3, Washington, Konowalchuk 1 (Khristich, Dahlen), 16:23. Penalties - Witt, Was (high-sticking), 10:09; Arnason, Chi (hooking), 13:44. Third period - 4, Chicago, Thomas 10 (Fitzgerald, Korolev), 7:52. Penalty-Yonkman, Was (interference), 1:22.

Shots on goal - Chicago 5-14-14-33. Washington 5-8-9-22. Power-play opportunities - Chicago 0 of 2; Washington 0 of 2. Goalies - Chicago, Thibault 32-23-9 (22 shots-19 saves). Washington, Kolzig 31-29-8 (33-32). A - 17,615 (18,672).

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