- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

For a few minutes yesterday afternoon, the Washington Capitals did not look like the team that has been running roughshod over the best and worst of the NHL. In fact, the Caps looked positively mortal, something akin to the wound the Tampa Bay Lightning were trying to inflict.

Then goalie Olie Kolzig tuned himself in and Washington's first line sprung to life. Poor Tampa Bay. Before it was over, the Caps erased a two-goal deficit and won their fifth straight over the Lightning, 5-2, thereby eliminating Tampa Bay (and the New York Islanders) from playoff consideration while holding onto their lead in the Southeast Division.

In the process, Chris Simon, whose previous seasonal high in the NHL had been 16 goals, scored his 26th and 27th. Sergei Gonchar scored his 16th and 17th goals, Ulf Dahlen got his 13th, Adam Oates assisted on all but Dahlen's goal and Kolzig recorded his 36th victory to move past Jim Carey for the team record for most wins in a season.

The win gave Washington 90 points and moved the team into a position where all it has to do to finish with 100 points is break-even in its last 10 games of the season. As it is, the Caps project a 103-point campaign and should exceed the team-record home point total of 62 (they have 56 now). Washington also has allowed just 170 goals in 72 games, putting the team on track to allow just 194, eight fewer than the 1997-98 record of 202.

But the catalysts behind yesterday's win were on Oates' line, with the massive Simon on the left and the decidedly non-massive Glen Metropolit on the right. The three accounted for 10 scoring points between them, Oates and Metropolit set up Gonchar and Simon for a pair apiece. It would be easy to say the competition was only Tampa Bay but the well-executed plays showed the four goals were no chance happenings.

"I give them credit, they're gunning for the Stanley Cup," Lightning coach Steve Ludzik said. "It was a good test because they are a team we'd like to model ourselves after. Kolzig had a big four or five saves [and] let's face it, that's why you have a big time goalie in net. He made some huge saves. The difference between the two teams is that Kolzig came up with some big saves."

"It looks like Metro is the missing piece of the puzzle on that line," said Caps coach Ron Wilson, giving Metropolit his ultimate compliment.

All season long Wilson has used everybody short of Kolzig to play the right side with the veteran Oates. He had short-term success, but nothing consistent. Metropolit, recently recalled from the minors, not only fit in but has helped bring a faltering power play unit back to life.

Oates has one goal and nine assists in his last six games, putting him on course for a 50-assist season (he has 48). Just a few weeks ago Oates thought a 50-assist season would not be possible after he had no goals and just three assists in his first 10 games of the season. He has been instrumental in the Caps' resurgence (27-6-6 since Christmas) but also has benefited from it.

Tampa Bay came into yesterday's game fresh off road wins in Montreal and New Jersey and a road tie against the New York Rangers. Thirteen minutes into the game the Lightning parlayed some very sloppy Washington play into a 2-0 lead and it seemed the road success might continue.

Not quite. Three and a half minutes before the period expired Oates fed Metropolit, who redirected the puck to an already swinging Simon and the score became 2-1. The inevitable was about to happen.

Dahlen rounded the net freely and scored 24 seconds into the second and Tampa Bay all but surrendered.

The win gave the Caps a record of 11-0-1 in its last 12 against division opponents. Washington has outscored those opponents 48-20.

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