Tie earns Capitals share of 1st place

Gonchar scores twice as Washington, Columbus play to 2-2 deadlock


January 04, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It was much too evenly played, this game between the Washington Capitals and the Central Division also-ran Columbus Blue Jackets.

Shots, scoring chances and puck control seemed evenly split much of the night, a situation the final 2-2 score reflected. And, when it mattered, it seemed the Blue Jackets always had the luck and the Capitals didn't.

And yet, Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who scored both goals last night, put away the game-tying power-play goal with 9:32 to play, only moments after the team was booed for an errant pass that wiped out precious seconds on a 5-on-3 power play.

At the time of the flubbed pass, few would have bet on the Capitals getting a point out of this game. But a flurry of furious effort in front of the Columbus net changed that. And the point the Capitals earned bumps them into a first-place tie with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast Division.

The Capitals play at the New York Rangers tonight with the opportunity to take singular possession of the division lead.

"I'm tired of talking about the negatives," Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We've battled for three weeks to get to the top, and we've gotten there when few but the guys in that room thought we could.

"We have a chance to wake up Sunday morning as the sole leader of the Southwest Division - ah, the Southeast Division, my mistake. A chance to be in first place at the halfway mark after the start we had and after our goaltender was injured twice. Sure, I'd rather us get points two at a time, but if we're in a game and we've come from behind to gain one point, I'll take the one."

Columbus, 13-20-3-2 and the NHL's top penalty-killing team, was inspired last night. The Blue Jackets had just ended a five-game losing streak Monday by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins and hoped to continue on positive footing here.

But the Caps, 19-16-3-2, are finding ways not to lose these days. And when Gonchar completed the work of Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk at 12:33 by beating Blue Jackets goalie Marc Denis for a 1-0 Washington lead, the Jackets seemed ready to sag.

"I guess we didn't play hard for 60 minutes, thinking we'd win easily," Gonchar said. "It almost cost us a point."

It was Gonchar who made a rare error on a Washington power play that started Columbus on a 3-on-1 breakaway on which Ray Whitney scored short-handed against Caps goalie Sebastien Charpentier (26 saves). Charpentier was playing in place of Olie Kolzig, who took a rare night off.

The goal restored the Blue Jackets' confidence, and when Davio Vyborny scored Columbus' second goal with 1:28 left in the middle period the Caps were definitely in a desperate position.

"I think the way we came back tonight and the way we've climbed out of a hole to the top of the division says a lot about our resiliency," said right wing Mike Grier, who nearly scored in overtime on a breakaway with a minute left. "With the way we played for the first month and a half, it's hard to believe."

NOTE: The Caps played their second game without right wing Peter Bondra, who has the flu.

Columbus 1 1 0 0 - 2

Washington 1 0 1 0 - 2

First period - 1, Washington, Gonchar 7 (Konowalchuk, Halpern), 7:27. 2, Columbus, Whitney 12 (Sillinger, Westcott), 17:37 (sh). Penalties - Nylander, Was (hooking), 1:41; Berry, Was (high-sticking), 12:55; Spacek, Clm (holding), 17:06. Second period - 3, Columbus, Vyborny 9 (Klesla, Sillinger), 18:32. Penalties - Jagr, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:14; Sillinger, Clm (hooking), 16:14; Witt, Was, double minor (high-sticking), 18:57. Third period - 4, Washington, Gonchar 8 (Nylander, Jagr), 10:28 (pp). Penalties - Sillinger, Clm (ob.-tripping), :41; Klee, Was (tripping), 1:37; Zubrus, Was (hooking), 6:54; Vyborny, Clm (tripping), 8:28; Walser, Clm (hooking), 8:50; Lachance, Clm (holding), 14:58. Overtime-None. Penalty-Zubrus, Was (hooking), 3:26. Shots on goal - Columbus 8-9-5-6-28. Washington 9-9-8-6-32. Power-play opportunities - Columbus 0 of 7; Washington 1 of 4. Goalies - Columbus, Denis 13-20-4 (32 shots-30 saves). Washington, Charpentier 3-4-1 (28-26). A - 14,602 (18,277).

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