Streaking Devils turn Caps around, 4-1

Madden's goal off turnover gets New Jersey going

Hockey

February 06, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The outcome of last night's NHL showdown between the Washington Capitals and the New Jersey Devils came down to one slippery puck and five seconds late in the middle period.

With the score tied and the Capitals attacking, Jaromir Jagr could do little but watch after the puck slipped off his stick as he tried a backhand, cross-ice pass in the neutral zone. New Jersey's Brian Rafalski picked up the puck and started a three-on-two break.

Rafalski passed across the slot to Patrik Elias for a shot that Caps goalie Olie Kolzig numbered among his 35 saves, but the rebound went to John Madden trailing the play, and he slammed it into the net with 3:13 left.

It was the first of three goals for Madden and the beginning of the end for the Capitals, who lost, 4-1, to the streaking Devils.

"I make a mistake, and they scored on it," said Jagr, who assisted Michael Nylander on Washington's only goal. "Once they get the lead, they're too good of a hockey club to come back on."

Jagr said he saw two open teammates across the ice and tried to make the play.

"I'm not Superman," he said. "I made a mistake, and New Jersey is better than we are right now. But the good thing is there are 30 games to go, and I think we're getting better every game."

The Capitals played the Devils stride-for-stride in two previous games in which the two sides split one-goal outcomes, and they seemed evenly matched last night until that one turnover.

"It was probably the turning point in the game," Madden said. "All night, we were working on Jagr, trying to make sure he had to beat two of us instead of one."

After that, it seemed the Caps were a step off, something Washington coach Bruce Cassidy thought he identified in the opening period, when scoring opportunities came undone as pucks just missed sticks and the net. And the Caps' league-leading home power-play unit (0-for-2) could not get in sync against New Jersey's penalty killers any more than the Devils' (0-for-6) could beat Washington's rapidly improving unit.

Washington (25-20-7-3) will be back at MCI Center again tomorrow against the New York Islanders and Sunday against the Montreal Canadiens.

Last night's loss did not change the Caps' five-point lead in the Southeast Division, given that the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington's closest challenger, did not play.

The Capitals came into the game as the second-highest scoring team in the Eastern Conference with 157 goals, but Devils goalie Martin Brodeur (27 saves) and his teammates had the answer last night for nearly everything the Caps had. The Devils improved their streak of scoring at least one point in a game to a franchise-record 14.

Five minutes after Nylander scored to give Washington a 1-0 lead in the second period, New Jersey's Turner Stevenson beat Kolzig with a one-timer from Jiri Bicek, and everything was even.

The Devils did not leave unscathed, however. Center Sergei Brylin was smashed between teammate Colin White and the Caps' Steve Konowalchuk at 5:59 of the first period and is thought to have a fractured arm. He will be X-rayed today.

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