Capitals play to 4-4 tie with Thrashers

Ciernik goal with 2:57 left in regulation earns a point


March 07, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - After the first 21 minutes of last night's 4-4 tie between the Washington Capitals and Atlanta Thrashers at MCI Center, the game seemed to have a simple story line.

The Capitals, trying to stretch their Southeast Division lead to four points over the Tampa Bay Lightning, took a 3-1 lead on the Thrashers and looked as if they would romp to victory.

Washington's Jaromir Jagr, who hadn't scored a point in three games, seemed to assure that with two goals and an assist in the game's first 20:57.

But, in the end, it wasn't so simple. The Capitals had to rally for a game-tying goal by Ivan Ciernik with 2:57 left in regulation just to emerge with a tie.

The win gave the Capitals a valuable point and extended their lead over Tampa Bay to three points for the lead in the Southeast Division. But it also creates more questions for Caps coach Bruce Cassidy.

One, can he get his team's power play working? After going 0-for-4 last night, it is a chilling 3-for-52 in its past 15 games.

And two, can Cassidy find a way to keep his streaky team from the sin of overconfidence?

The Thrashers have never won at MCI Center. But given the way they played and the way their goalie, Pasi Nurminen, performed in making 33 saves in his first game back from a groin strain that had sidelined him since Feb. 17, the Caps were offered a lesson in the pitfalls that come with great expectations.

"I think when we went out for the shift after the goal was wiped off that would have given us a 4-1 lead, that our guys thought they were going to go out and just fill their boots [with goals]," Cassidy said. "And we started playing bandwagon hockey."

Wing Dainius Zubrus allowed as much, lamenting that his team should have won.

"We probably got carried away," said Zubrus, who assisted on Jagr's second goal. "We probably played a little soft and fancy, and this is what happens when you do that. All of our chances came from cycling and keeping the puck down low and get away from it.

"Atlanta is very fast and good in transition and their goalie played well. You have to give them credit, but we should have won this one."

The Caps were rolling until a apparent goal by Mike Grier that would have given them a 4-1 lead was wiped off. The Caps were still up 3-1, but it was Atlanta, taking advantage of every Caps error, that got three straight goals from Jeff Cowan, Dany Heatley and Lubos Bartecko to take a 4-3 lead.

"We dominated the first 25 minutes and then made defensive mistakes," said Caps goalie Olie Kolzig, who had 17 saves. "We let them back in the game. But, in the end, we were shafted by the referees.

"We should have had a 5-on-3, not saying a goal was guaranteed, but it would have improved our chances. The inconsistency has to stop at some point. Getting near the playoffs, the players all try to improve their games by becoming more consistent. Why can't the refs do the same thing?"

Atlanta 1 2 1 0 - 4

Washington 2 1 1 0 - 4

First period - 1, Washington, Jagr 35 (Lang, Klee), 2:47. 2, Atlanta, Heatley 27 (Savard), 5:00. 3, Washington, Jagr 36 (Zubrus, Lang), 15:13. Second period - 4, Washington, Halpern 12 (Jagr, Ciernik), :57. 5, Atlanta, Cowan 2 (Snyder), 3:41. 6, Atlanta, Heatley 28 (Synder, Hrkac), 12:23 (pp). Third period - 7, Atlanta, Bartecko 3 (Hartigan, Kovalchuk), 4:02. 8, Washington, Ciernik 7 (Bondra, Witt), 17:03. Penalties - Savard, Atl (holding), 10:49; Bondra, Was (holding), 12:50; Nurminen, Atl, served by Savard (delay of game), 17:49; Gonchar, Was (elbowing), 18:55. Overtime-None. Shots on goal - Atlanta 6-9-5-1-21. Washington 14-7-12-4-37. Power-play opportunities - Atlanta 1 of 3; Washington 0 of 4. Goalies - Atlanta, Nurminen 13-14-4 (37 shots-33 saves). Washington, Kolzig 27-21-6 (21-17). A - 16,117 (18,277). T-2:21.

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