- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 13, 2001

Ulf Dahlen, in his words, "won the lottery." If he won it a year ago, his bargaining power would have been much greater when he sat down to dicker over a new contract with the Washington Capitals last summer.
Dahlen doesn't complain. How could he? He is playing on a line with two future Hall of Famers, center Adam Oates and right wing Jaromir Jagr. For a guy accustomed to mucking down low along the boards, it's like discovering the mother lode running through your backyard.
"I'm just having fun," Dahlen said yesterday after an optional practice, slightly amused by the sudden rush of attention. "I'm having fun since I came to Washington and I really enjoy … whatever. Anyone would be happy to be put on the line with those two guys. I kind of won the lottery. I'm just going to try to work as hard as I can to stay there."
The reference to lottery is not an accident. Matching Dahlen with the other two might be the end of a series of experiments to find a good mix for Jagr, the defending NHL scoring champion. Dahlen is one of several players who have been used and he is benefiting to the point that he has climbed into the team scoring lead (13 goals, 30 points), ahead of Jagr and Peter Bondra.
The switch to scoring leader comes after Dahlen was a key part of the superb checking line centered by Jeff Halpern with Steve Konowalchuk on the left. But Konowalchuk is out until February after shoulder surgery and different spots have been found for the others.
"What they were was a containment line, a reliable line that maybe didn't have the flair to put a lot of goals on the board but between them they scored 60 and that's a lot," said Oates. "The difference now is the power play. Ulfie is getting first power play unit time, that's 30, maybe 40 points you end up with and a lot of confidence."
Dahlen is not a finesse skater; he doesn't sneak up on anybody. He sort of materializes from the corner of the net and dares you to take the puck away. He is tremendously strong on his feet, with the thighs of a soccer player. He is a powerful force digging for the puck in front of a goalie.
"He's got a great touch around the net," said coach Ron Wilson. "He's an intelligent player and is prepared to do whatever he thinks is necessary for the team to win. I commend that."
And that's a long way from having your contract bought out by Chicago during the 1997 offseason, going home to Sweden and playing there for two years, thinking your NHL years were over. Then the Caps called defenseman Calle Johansson, a lifelong friend, may have supplied the phone number and it was time to return to show disbelievers there was still gas in the tank.
Dahlen being Dahlen, is not satisfied with his performance. In his mind, there is always room for improvement.
"I'm not happy with the way I've been finishing because I missed a lot of scoring chances," he said. "When you play with those passers who get you the puck as soon as you're open, you get chances. I'm trying to stay ready because I know I'm going to get a lot of scoring chances playing with those two players."
He didn't mention that Oates set him up with what might have been the winning goal Tuesday night against Pittsburgh. But he didn't lift the puck when he shot and countryman Johan Hedberg stacked his pads and made the save.
If he is becoming the master of the second chance, there is one more he would like. Dahlen was on Team Sweden for the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano and would like to play again in Salt Lake City. So far, Anders Hedberg, the Swedish general manager, hasn't called, but Johansson leaves for Sweden on Saturday for a holiday visit. He'll have Dahlen's number with him in case he bumps into Hedberg.

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