- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 22, 2000

RALEIGH, N.C. On the day when the Washington Capitals moved another point closer to Florida in the Southeast Division race, the Caps also backed into a virtual tie with Ottawa for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

While Washington was staging a third-period comeback to gain a 1-1 overtime deadlock with the Carolina Hurricanes at Entertainment and Sports Arena yesterday, the Senators were thumping the Panthers 4-2, and the conference and division races tightened as a result.

The Caps are four points behind Florida in the Southeast Division, a significant improvement considering they once trailed the Panthers by 16 points. The teams meet at MCI Center tomorrow night with another game between them in Washington on March 7.

Washington gained one point on the Panthers yesterday, but the Senators made up the point by which they trailed the Caps. The two clubs have been swapping fifth and sixth place in the East for the past few weeks and have two games left against each other, both in Ottawa. Each has played 59 games, as have the Panthers.

The Caps' top goal is to overtake Florida in the Southeast and grab the automatic playoff berth and home ice that go to the division winner. Barring that, the team would like to get home ice for the first round of the playoffs by taking fourth place in the conference, a billet currently filled by the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Caps yesterday nearly were handed a dose of their own medicine, playing a defensive-minded team that was more than willing to ride a 1-0 lead to a victory. But defenseman Ken Klee responded to center Ron Francis' first period redirection with a redirection of his own in the third period, and that accounted for the only scoring against stingy goalies Olie Kolzig and Arturs Irbe.

"Maybe our energy meter isn't on 100, but it's three games in less than four days with a lot of travel on the road," coach Ron Wilson said. "You're trailing with less than 10 minutes to go, and you come up with a point. That's huge."

Which is how Klee felt about it, to the point of almost hurting himself. After he redirected a Richard Zednik drive past Irbe at 11:31 of the third, he jumped into the air in celebration, fell and crashed into the boards.

"You want to get a little excited when you score, especially in circumstances like that," Wilson said.

"Zednik shot it, and I just redirected it," Klee said plainly. But he added it wasn't in the same league as Francis' score.

"That was a goal and a half," he said. "I came from behind him and gave him a hard shot, and he still tipped it back through his own legs. I don't know how he did it. I want to see the replay myself. I wouldn't give myself the same credit as Ron Francis for sure."

Both teams had makeshift units on the ice because of injuries, but the Hurricanes were missing four key regulars, and that seemed to affect their game more. They concentrated on defense and almost got a shutout.

"They really bottled things up, didn't give us too much," Kolzig said. "At the same time we were playing our system pretty well, so we really didn't give them too much either. It was definitely the type of game we normally play, not like the Colorado game [a 2-1 win], which was a little more wide open, or the Chicago game [a 5-4 win], which was a blitzkrieg. We got back to playing the way we play best, and give them credit, they really tightened things down."

One thing that did bother the Caps was undisciplined penalties, which gave the Hurricanes five power plays. The Caps killed all five but failed to score on their five chances with the extra man.

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