- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

The difference between the two games was startling. The question remains, in which game did the real Washington Capitals show up?
Washington got two goals in the first period and an outstanding defensive performance from Jeff Halpern's checking line and goalie Olie Kolzig to defeat Colorado 2-1 last night at MCI Center. It was a badly needed victory over a quality opponent.
Or was it that badly needed? Coach Bruce Cassidy thought that perhaps too much emphasis had been placed on a very poor performance Friday night, when an injury-depleted, non-playoff Los Angeles team beat the Caps 3-1.
"You've got to remember in our last 10 games we've picked up points in nine of them," Cassidy said. "We had a bad outing against L.A., we all recognize that. A bounce here or there and we probably come out of that with a tie. It wasn't like we were awful, we were just flat.
"I would expect after the way we played against New Jersey, Philadelphia and Colorado, I call them some of the elite teams in the league, we've proven to ourselves that we can compete with them and it's just a mindset that we have to bring out. We have to bring that every night, we have to bring that on the road trip and I think our guys recognize that."
Washington cut two points off the three-point lead Tampa Bay had in the Southeast Division and reduced its magic number to make the playoffs to eight any combination of Caps points gained or points Montreal fails to gain totaling eight and Washington is in.
The key to last night's game for Washington was to shut down Colorado's top line, the Joe Sakic unit with Alex Tanguay and Milan Hejduk. Cassidy assigned Halpern with wings Steve Konowalchuk and Mike Grier to guard the talented trio and it worked. Sakic scored early in the second period to trim a goal off Washington's 2-0 lead but the Halpern line wasn't on the ice for that.
"And when they did score it was an unlucky bounce," Halpern said. "As a team we did a great job tonight. It's fun when we win and to be able to contribute in any way. The rest of the guys stepping up makes our job a lot easier and that's what I mean, it was a great team effort tonight."
Washington responded last night like an underdog going up against a better team, something that has not always been the case. The Caps' record against clubs with better records this season is 7-17-1-2; against clubs from the Western Conference, Washington is only 5-10-3-1.
"Maybe we responded to a poor game the other night," Halpern said. "Knowing Colorado has been such a good team, maybe we just get up for them. I don't know why we weren't up for the L.A. game because every two points is big this time of the year. I was just happy to see the guys respond in a positive way."
Sergei Gonchar, who hadn't scored a goal since Feb. 22, put the first goal up last night 12 minutes into the first period. With Dainius Zubrus doing heavy-duty grunt work down low to keep the puck alive, Sergei Berezin finally got it to Gonchar in the slot and he got every bit of it, driving it in off goalie David Aebischer's right skate.
Five minutes later Berezin put the winner behind Aebischer. Berezin was working his way toward the slot and Robert Lang waited for him to get in better position before feeding the puck. Berezin, who now has goals in both his games with the Caps, got his stick on the ice and redirected the pass past the goalie.
Cassidy shifted some of his defensive personnel to give people like Jason Doig a better opportunity to show their physical side and Doig responded, hammering bodies in every corner of the ice. It contributed to keeping the Avalanche off balance through the game.
"We made a decision that Doig could be physical against them and Calle [Johansson] is as smart as they come so it was going to be a good match for us," Cassidy said.

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