Caps feeling blue after losing lead, game, 5-3

Team fails West test, lets St. Louis escape 3-1 hole

January 29, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - This season has been filled with character tests for the Washington Capitals. At first it was a trial just to mesh as a team. Then came the challenge of handling a little success, and just two days ago the New York Rangers tested their physical determination.

But one of the Caps' biggest exams came last night against the St. Louis Blues, a team they hadn't beaten since Dec. 29, 1997, and a team from the troublesome Western Conference.

In truth, it was a game of self-measurement and patience. A game to see how far the Caps had come.

And how far have they come? A long way, but not all the way.

Washington built a two-goal advantage in the second period but lost that lead in the final 2:44 of the period and fell, 5-3, ending a four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2-0).

"We should never have lost this game," said the Caps' Dainius Zubrus, who scored a brilliant power-play goal at 12:54 of that middle period to put the Caps up 3-1. "If we want to think of ourselves as a good team, things like this shouldn't happen. Good teams don't give up two-goal leads like that. St. Louis is a very good team and played well, but we've got to put out a 60-minute effort."

The Caps came into last night's game with a 4-7-3-1 record against Western Conference teams, Most of those games were played before they went on an 8-0-3-3 point-scoring streak in December and early January, but they did not beat one Western team over those 14 games. In fact, two of the ties and one of the overtime losses were to Western foes.

So last night, facing the West's fourth-best team, the Caps were eager to find a way to win.

And it looked like the Caps just might do it, until late in the second period, when goalie Olie Kolzig, the team's most consistent player, failed to stop two long shots from the point after Washington had turned over the puck.

"St. Louis plays a solid game," said the Caps' Mike Grier. "And we played with them and skated with them all night. It was just a burst when their top guys took over the game. After [Keith] Tkachuk's goal, we should have done a better job of slowing down the game."

Tkachuk redirected a puck past Kolzig to get the Blues back in the game at 3-2. Paval Demitra tied it on a long, straight shot 32 seconds later. Al MacInnis put the Blues in the lead with 30 seconds to play in the period on another shot that seemed like it should have been an easy save for the big goalie who had been brilliant over the previous 37 minutes.

"I know he was screened," said Caps coach Bruce Cassidy. "You know Olie is going to stop an open shot from the point if he sees it. It was three plays that were the difference. Our guys are upset, and they should be. I think that's a good sign. The team played well."

But the way the Caps lost was shocking. And no one was more upset than Kolzig, who followed his teammates off the ice after the second period slamming his stick on the ice, on the players' bench and on the wall of the passageway as he vented his frustration into the locker room.

Kolzig was not available to comment after the game.

Those three minutes changed everything. Rendered meaningless were power-play goals by Jaromir Jagr and Zubrus and a score by Josh Green.

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