Capitals show fight in 7-2 thumping of Rangers

Five power-play goals, early penalty kill pace win


January 27, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Jeff Halpern looked like he'd been in a street fight by the time the Washington Capitals found their way to the locker room yesterday. And in a way, he had.

The New York Rangers' Bobby Holik threw an elbow at his head before the game was a minute old and when Halpern fought back, the Capitals found themselves facing a five-minute penalty-killing situation.

It could have been the end of Washington's hopes. But the Caps killed the penalty and it energized them. Later in the period, when the Rangers put the Caps on a power play, it was the beginning of the end as Washington went on to score a season-high five power-play goals and win, 7-2.

"Killing the initial penalty was huge," said Caps right wing Jaromir Jagr (one goal, two assists). "But for me, the No. 1 reason we won the game was Jeff Halpern. He won the game for us. All they wanted was to fight him all the time."

Penalties covered the ice like confetti. Of the 155 total minutes, New York had 89 of them. The Capitals, after killing that initial five-minute New York advantage, had all the power, going 5-for-9 with the man advantage.

Robert Lang scored the first power-play goal - then Kip Miller, Sergei Gonchar, Jagr and Peter Bondra. Defenseman Calle Johansson and Lang scored at even strength.

The victory was Washington's 11th since its current hot streak began Dec. 13. In that time, the Caps have rolled along, 11-3-5-3, to grab the Southeast Division lead. Yesterday's win stretched their advantage to five points over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Caps play the St. Louis Blues here tomorrow night and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday before the All-Star break next weekend.

"I had no trouble with the start," said Caps coach Bruce Cassidy. "We killed a five-minute power play. I've always thought it was tough to start a game on the power play, before you're warmed up. That situation could have changed the whole complexion of the game, but our special teams were solid."

After the Caps had taken a 3-0 lead by the 50-second mark of the second period, Rangers coach Bryan Trottier pulled starting goalie Mike Dunham (13 saves on 16 shots). The move seemed to spark the Rangers, and by the end of the period Jamie Lundmark (two goals) had scored his first goal to get the Rangers back in it at 3-1.

But with 16:24 to go in the third period, New York eliminated any hope it had by overreacting to a hard, clean hit by Jason Doig on the Rangers' Eric Lindros.

"We don't always agree with all the officials' calls," Trottier said. "But we need to maintain a little more poise at times and come up with focus in [key] areas. Yeah, we paid the price tonight."

By the time the third-period melee was sorted out, Halpern had been punched in the mouth and several other Caps' necks had been bent into uncomfortable positions, but Washington received a five-on-three advantage for four minutes and scored twice.

"You don't mind getting roughed up and digging in the corners as long as your guys are scoring on the power play and pulling the game out," Halpern said. "They've got a player [Lindros] they're trying to protect from another concussion, and yet every time you're out there, they're taking shots at you. After a while, you get tired of it."

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