- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

A lot of good things happen to the Washington Capitals when they play Atlanta. The Caps have never lost to the Thrashers at home (6-0-1). Goalie Craig Billington's last home start and last home win was against Atlanta. The last time the Caps were at .500 was against Atlanta, and they returned to that mark last night.
The Caps received a two-goal performance from Jaromir Jagr, the first multiple goal performance of his Washington career; two goals from Peter Bondra; and one from Joe Reekie in punishing Atlanta 5-2 at MCI Center in a game that never seemed completely safe because the Thrashers refused to quit.
Washington is now 14-14-5, and maybe its customary late charge is ready to begin. Traditionally between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Caps have turned lackluster seasons into journeys to the front. It was Washington's second straight win, and the team is unbeaten in three games.
"It's a nice feeling," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "We worked hard the last month to get here, and now that we are here we can't relax. We have to make a little push here before our three-day break for Christmas."
Billington got the start because Olie Kolzig, who had started the previous 36 games at home, came up with a sprained ankle. Kolzig was expected to be ready against the Panthers in Florida on Wednesday, Wilson said, but the availability of center Andrei Nikolishin and right wing Dainius Zubrus is still not known.
"We were missing five very important people," Wilson said. "Billington got the job done, made some nice saves and made a great save on a breakaway right off the bat. Some guys have settled in and relaxed a little bit, have stepped up in the lineup and gotten the job done."
Jagr ended his nine-game goal-less streak (he had seven assists during that span), third longest of his career, at 7:38 of the first on second and third effort. Milan Hnilicka stopped his first test, and his second glanced off something only to come to rest in the crease with the goalie stretched out and out of position. Jagr dug it out and lifted it over defenseman Todd Reirden, who was not having much luck playing goal.
His second goal came off a perfect feed from Adam Oates on a power play, straight to the open Jagr. He hustled to beat the undefended goalie before he could shift back.
The Thrashers got one past Billington 41/2 minutes later when Patrik Stefan redirected a Chris Tamer drive and the goalie had no chance. The Caps pulled in front with 36 seconds left in the opening period when Reekie scored his first goal in 58 games, a slap shot from the left point.
Stefan, the trailer on the play, scored his second four minutes into the second period when he beat Billington high on the stick side, tying the game again but only for four minutes. Then Dmitri Khristich drilled a shot that clanged off the left post, glanced out into play, then bounced off Bondra and into the net. It was Bondra's 20th of the season and snapped a four-game, goal-less streak for him. He got his 21st in the third period on a wrist shot.
Billington's last MCI start came Jan. 1, a 4-2 win over Atlanta. Kolzig had taken that day off to be present when his wife gave birth to the couple's first child, a son.
Corey Hirsch, who replaced Kolzig for the third period of the Ottawa game March 11 and won 6-5, backed up yesterday.
Nikolishin missed his second straight with a bruised left leg, and Zubrus was out with a slight groin strain. Glen Metropolit, also recalled from Portland, filled the vacant spot at forward.

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