- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2000

The obvious objective was to break a losing streak but what the Washington Capitals really wanted to do was snap it in a respectable fashion, playing good hockey instead of the slapstick brand that had been on display for more than a week.

The Caps defeated the hapless New York Rangers last night 4-1 playing a so-so game for the first 20 minutes then the kind of hockey that took the team close to the top of the Eastern Conference. Joe Sacco scored twice with Glen Metropolit and Jeff Halpern each adding one to back Olie Kolzig's solid performance in goal.

The Caps move up to 99 points in the tight race for playoff seeding, two points behind front-running New Jersey, the Eastern leader which was defeated by Florida last night, 5-2. The Panthers remain four points behind Washington in the Southeast Division with each team having three games left.

Washington was trailing 1-0 after the first 20 minutes when the Rangers appeared to be doing a fair job of trying to impress Dave Checketts, the Madison Square Garden president who is looking for a new general manager, coach and, one assumes, new players. Petr Nedved, a traditional thorn in the Caps' side, scored off a great Brian Leetch pass with the Rangers on a 5-on-3.

"After the first period we had a little talk among ourselves and decided it was time to pick it up a little bit," Sacco said. "We know we're in the playoffs but we want to go in playing good hockey, not playing inconsistent. We have to start playing for 60 minutes; when we only play 20 we're not going to win and it's going to be hard to come back."

Washington had just lost back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 21-22 and had not been playing particularly well since March 25, a 4-3 win over Ottawa. The playoffs were guaranteed but the club wanted to shake the poor aspects of the game that had been creeping in and finally taking over.

The performance in the first period didn't show that anything had been settled, so some prodding by Kolzig and left wing Chris Simon was in order. Washington took the ice for the second period a different team.

"You can't turn it on and off like a faucet," Sacco said. "With our club, we're a hardworking team and if we don't work hard for 60 minutes, well …"

Sacco hadn't had a two-goal game since December, 1996, until last night. His first came after he intercepted a pass by Ranger (and former Cap) defenseman Kevin Hatcher and broke in alone on goalie Kirk McLean, putting the puck up and over his left arm. The second came as the Caps had a man advantage on a delayed Ranger penalty, some good passing left Sacco open and he rammed it through the goalie for what turned out to be the winner at 17:41 of the second.

"To get out of our funk, I guess we needed someone from the fourth line to score," coach Ron Wilson said. "Joe is a checker and penalty-killer. It was nice to see him get rewarded."

Metropolit redirected an Adam Oates pass early in the third period and Halpern, just named NHL rookie of the month of March, hammered a shot down the slot late in the third for the final score. It was Halpern's 18th of the season and 29th point.

"We didn't have a good first period," Oates said. "It definitely was not what we were looking for. The last couple games we have struggled at home. This was a tough game to play when you're playing a team that hasn't been playing well; you don't know what you're going to get out of them."

Notes Kolzig tied Jim Carey last night for most games played in the Caps' goal in one season, 71… . He was also one of four runners-up for the NHL's March player of the month honors with a record of 10-2-1, 2.21 GAA. He was the NHL's January player of the month… . Andrei Nikolishin (groin) and Peter Bondra (shoulder) were both scratches last night but the club feels Nikolishin might have it back for tonight's game in Ottawa. There is no timetable on Bondra's return… . Last night was defenseman Joe Reekie's 400th game as a Cap, the 770th in his NHL career… . Oates last night moved into sole possession of 12th place on the all-time assist list… . Nedved had a much bigger goal against the Caps four years ago. He scored against Kolzig in the fourth overtime on April 24, 1996, to tie the playoff series Pittsburgh later won 4-2.

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