- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 17, 2000

Not every goal in hockey is worth a thousand words, but some are such as the one that gave the Capitals a 2-1 win over Colorado on Tuesday night. How often do you see a goal scored in the very last second of a period? Once every five or 10 years, maybe? Well, the Caps have done it twice in less than three weeks. Some would call that an omen.

The first buzzer-beater by Calle Johansson came on the last tick of overtime against Phoenix on Jan. 28. Johansson cut it so close that the replay official reviewed the goal just to make sure it was legit. There was the same dramatic pause Tuesday after Adam Oates scored at the end of the second period; everybody at MCI Center held his breath while the tape was rewound, then a roar went up when the scoreboard was changed from “Capitals 1” to “Capitals 2”.

“Wasn’t that great?” Johansson said afterward. “Mine was in the net before the buzzer sounded, but I don’t know about this one. It was really close. Someone said [it made it by] a tenth of a second.”

Two seconds, two goals, two extra points in the standings. Wouldn’t it be something if those two points the difference between two ties and two victories enabled the Caps to win their division or get a better matchup in the first round of the playoffs? Goals like those define a team; if a team scores two last-second goals in the space of 19 days, you know this about it above all else: It never stops trying.

I’m going to resist the temptation to call the Capitals a Team of Destiny on the basis of two lightning-bolt goals. As Johansson said, the secret of the Caps’ success (16-3-4 over the last 23 games) isn’t all that mysterious. “It’s hard work and everybody doing the same thing day in and day out.” I will say this about them, though: Their recent play reminds me an awful lot of two years ago, when they made it to the Stanley Cup finals. Doesn’t it remind you of two years ago, too, Calle? “Of course it does,” he said.

How about you, Oatesy?

“We were talking about that a week ago,” he said. “You know, we’re kind of a cocky team, and we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now. We’re playing good defense, we’ve got a goaltender who’s playing great for us… . It’s just a good feeling.”

In another corner of the locker room, Ted Leonsis practically in playoff shape himself after a 19-pound weight loss had a smile on his face that wouldn’t go away. The game wasn’t a sellout, but it was a much better crowd (15,312 announced) than you usually see on a Tuesday night. Leonsis attributed it to “a combination of marketing, the team playing great and just good word of mouth. I come to all the games; I know the crowd and I’m seeing a lot of new faces,” he said. “If they leave happy, they’ll go and tell 10 friends. But if they leave unhappy, they’ll go and tell 100. So that’s one of the problems we’re facing.”

Lately, the only fans leaving MCI Center have been happy fans. The Capitals have won their last nine home games, a club record. Unfortunately, they’re on the road for most of the month. It will be interesting to see how they draw in March and early April, when 12 of their 19 games are at MCI. In one nine-day stretch, Detroit, Florida, New Jersey and Buffalo, with a healthy Dominik Hasek, all come to Washington. I, personally, plan on camping out in the press box the entire time. It will be like a playoff preview.

Hard as it is to believe, this Capitals team might be even more nondescript than the one in ‘98. At least that team had a guy who scored 52 goals (Peter Bondra, who tied for the NHL lead). This year’s team has almost nobody among the league leaders in any sexy category. (Olie Kolzig was tied for third in wins going into last night, and Oates was tied for ninth in assists, but that was about it.) And yet the Caps have been rolling over opponents like a runaway Zamboni.

“Everybody’s working together,” Johansson said. “We don’t have one line doing it game after game. One night it’s one line, one night it’s another line. We have 20 guys putting everything into every night.”

And into every second of every night as he and Oates have shown. “Goals like that are so big,” said Chris Simon, who helped set up Oates’ score by digging the puck out of the corner and sliding it to Sergei Gonchar behind the net. “Teams take great pride in stopping the other team from scoring in the last minute of a period. Whenever you get one, it’s a big boost for you and a big downer for them.”

Oates’ goal from the low slot boosted the Capitals within a point of fourth place in the East heights they probably never thought were attainable back in the dark days of December. “If we can just hang on for a few more [road] games,” he said, “it’ll be March.” And then the real party might begin.

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