- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001


TAMPA, Fla. The Washington Capitals scored three goals in the final six minutes last night, but until that spurt it appeared the Caps were going to have to fight hard just to get a point.

Peter Bondra scored his 34th career goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Chris Simon banged in a loose puck in the crease and Jeff Halpern scored into an empty net, powering the Caps to a 5-2 victory at the Ice Palace. The game was closer than the score indicated mainly because the Lightning aren't playing the same lousy brand of hockey they once did.

Washington boosted its Southeast Division lead over the surging Carolina Hurricanes to three points with the win and broke a two-game losing streak at the same time.

It wasn't easy because the Lightning don't let opponents get away with the same things they did in the past. They swarm at foes in a seemingly disorganized manner, forcing teams out of everything they have practiced for weeks.

"They play a little bit scrambly themselves," coach Ron Wilson said. "People aren't where they normally are, and they're quick, too. Right now we're a little out of sync, and it shows. Not everybody is on top of their game, and instead of being able to take advantage of that team being out of position we were sort of running around.

"But we got the job done. We don't have our 'A' game here tonight, but we found a way of getting the job done. There were a couple things that we're really good at that got the job done, [winning] three faceoffs for goals and the power play. Defensively we played quite well, although at times it looked scrambly. The bottom line was we got the job done."

Besides Bondra, Simon and Halpern, Brendan Witt and Richard Zednik scored for the Caps in Olie Kolzig's 20th win of the season.

Washington had firm control in the first period, but that shifted in the middle 20 minutes. Kolzig kept his team in the game; he didn't face a huge number of quality shots but made the stops he had to make. On the one that did get past him in the second, everybody on the ice lost sight of the puck until it bounced off the rear glass, landed at the goalie's feet and was pounded in by Martin St. Louis.

"We were sort of back on our heels in the second. We weren't skating," said Witt, who scored for the first time in nearly a year. His last goal was Jan. 26, 2000, against Calgary.

"In the third, I thought, 'Hey, these are big points for us. We got to bear down and see who's the better team.' So we did," the defenseman said. "We said we got to outwork this team. They're a hard-working team over there. They're not going to quit. You got to realize when you come in here it won't be an easy game. They're going to forecheck you and play you hard."

Witt scored in the first three minutes of the game, but the disorganized Tampa Bay play produced the Caps' second goal three minutes after that. Zednik was credited with a goal 13 minutes into the first when a Tampa Bay defender accidentally redirected the puck into the net.

As the third period wore on it looked more and more like a draw was in the works until Tampa Bay's Ryan Johnson was called for slashing at 12:27. For the first minute of the Caps power play, Lightning goalie Kevin Weekes was outstanding, as he had been all night, but Bondra ripped his 24th of the season past the goalie at 13:57 for the game-winner. Simon hopped on a loose puck and put that in the back of the cage at 16:30. But still, the Caps couldn't relax. With 2 and 1/2 minutes to go, the Lightning pulled Weekes for an extra attacker and swarmed the Washington end.

Halpern put an end to that with an empty-netter at 18:26, and finally the Caps would breathe easily.

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