- The Washington Times - Monday, April 9, 2001

CAPS 2, LIGHTNING 1

In the end, Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson had it right: "The game had absolutely no meaning at all, for either team."

But as long as the Caps had to face Tampa Bay yesterday, a victory was better than a loss and Washington rallied for a 2-1 win at MCI Center. And Olie Kolzig looked more like the Olie Kolzig who won the Vezina Trophy last season than the impersonator who wore the goalie's uniform a few weeks back.

In a textbook definition of an anticlimactic encounter, the two teams closed their seasons headed in opposite directions.

The Caps have today off before starting serious preparations for Pittsburgh, their first round playoff opponent. The only worry the Lightning players now have is getting to the first tee on time.

Steve Konowalchuk and Ulf Dahlen, the wings on Jeff Halpern's second line, scored for Washington, while Adrian Aucoin scored a power play goal for Tampa Bay.

The Lightning had been eliminated from playoff consideration for some time, but the players were playing for pride, bragging rights and the opportunity to end the season as winners. Those things made the team very tough to play. Dahlen's winner didn't come until early in the third period and then the fight was to hold Tampa Bay off for 19 1/2 minutes.

That's when Kolzig was at his best. He stopped all nine shots he faced in the third and 23 of 24 for the game. He closed the season with two wins and one goal allowed in his last 120 minutes of ice time.

Center Adam Oates was not on the ice for either Washington goal and ended the regular season with 69 assists in 81 games, tied for the league assist lead with the Penguins' Jaromir Jagr. Jagr did not play during Pittsburgh's 6-4 win over Carolina yesterday.

Nonetheless, the 38-year-old Oates became the oldest player in league history to win or share the assist title. Wayne Gretzky had 67 assists at age 37, but only 53 when he was Oates' age.

The Caps finish with a 41-27-10-4 record and 96 points, the Southeast Division championship and the reward of home ice advantage for the first round. The Penguins finish 42-28-9-3, 96 points and open their playoffs at MCI Center Thursday night.

It's debatable to say yesterday's game was meaningless. Washington defenseman Sylvain Cote, who has played well during the last half of the season as a regular after a slow start as a sub, was injured in the second period and did not return. According to Wilson, Cote was hurt trying to block a shot. He is expected to miss 3-4 days and might not be ready for Thursday's opener.

Peter Bondra ended the season with 45 goals in what can be considered the best all-around season of his career. However, he admitted he was pressing to get something going in order to get off 45, where he has been since March 24. He is now scoreless in seven games; he had nine goals in his previous 10 games prior to the drought.

"I was looking for maybe the last two or three games to maybe get a lucky bounce and put the puck in the net," Bondra said. "But at the same time you look at my game and I created enough chances to score goals so I shouldn't put my head down. And Thursday starts another whole new year, a new season for everybody and I'm looking forward to it."

It is no secret that the Penguins felt one of the major factors in their easy 4-1 thumping of the Caps in the their playoff series last season was the fact Bondra was on the fourth line and not scoring. He is on the first line this season and has been effective.

Konowalchuk's goal yesterday was his 24th and earned him his 46th point. Both numbers are career highs for the hard-nosed grinder.

"You know, I don't even know if I got that goal," Konowalchuk said. "The defenseman and myself, we were battling and I don't know if it went off my stick or his. It's nice but I credit it to our line, you can't have success without your line."


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