- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

CAPS 6, SENATORS 5

This is one the new Washington Capitals fans, those recruited by Ted Leonsis, will tell their grandchildren about.
The Caps trailed Eastern Conference leader Ottawa by three goals twice yesterday, the last time with less than 14 minutes remaining in the third period, but staged a monumental rally to pull out a stunning 6-5 triumph and move within three points of the conference lead with 13 games left.
Steve Konowalchuk whipped a backhand shot past Patrick Lalime with 1:28 left in the game to give Washington the victory. Konowalchuk took advantage of the largess of Adam Oates, the ever-dependable assist dispenser who leads the league with 62 helpers this season.
It would be accurate to say that the final goal brought the near-capacity crowd at MCI Center to its feet, but that happened long before when Andrei Nikolishin closed the gap to two, when Trent Whitfield made it a one-goal game with his second in two nights, when Sergei Gonchar tied it with a well-placed slap shot from 50 feet away or when backup Corey Hirsch made any one of his eight stops in the third period. Hirsch relieved Olie Kolzig, who was reminded earlier in the day what it was like to play without a coordinated defense.
"I've been around this team two years, and this is my most satisfying win," Leonsis said. "I told the people in the [owner's] box when it was 5-2, I said, 'Watch, we're going to pull this one out.' They were calling me a homer… . I can't believe it."
No doubt, it was a huge come-from-behind win, but the Caps have done this before.
On Feb. 2, 1986, the Caps entered the third period trailing the Whalers 4-1 in Hartford and won 5-4. And on Feb. 3, 1996, the Caps entered the third period on Long Island behind the New York Islanders 5-2 but won 6-5 in overtime. Peter Bondra had four goals and two assists in that one.
Yesterday Washington was run over at times by the faster Senators. The Caps' passing was off target and ill-timed. Ottawa seemed to do the best job of any opponent in scouting Washington. It appeared as if the Senators had a copy of the Caps' game plan because they blocked everything Washington tried.
But the Senators were also tired after playing the New York Rangers Saturday night, the first game Ottawa lost this season when it led entering the third period.
And it happened to the Senators for the second game in a row yesterday. When the third period started, the Caps were all over the place. It was not the same team that was on the ice for the first two.
"Obviously, it was pretty hairy there, but to come back from being down 5-2, I mean we really had nothing to lose," said Hirsch, who was on the bench only because usual backup Craig Billington is injured. "We were down 5-2, the game looked out of hand, so the boys just stepped it up a bit. My God, the things this team can do when it wants to play well."
The Caps played with abandon. It was the type of hockey the team has been playing of late, helping it to a 15-1-2-1 record in its last 19 games. It was much different from the type of hockey that allowed Ottawa to score three power-play goals against a team that prides itself on its defense.
"It was a great pass by Oatsie and great play on the boards by [Ulf Dahlen]," Konowalchuk said. "Whenever Oates has the puck, I'm going to the net because you know it's either going to end up on my tape or shoot it and there will be a rebound. What a super play by him."
Oates was in perfect position to shoot but didn't, something Ottawa should have known from its scouting report. Gifted centers often pass when they should shoot, which is precisely what the 38-year-old did after he drew two defenders to him. That left Konowalchuk with the puck and Lalime looking somewhat befuddled.
"It's real nice to win them that way," Konowalchuk said, "but it's really tough to do that. We know we played sloppy the first two periods. [It's] not the way we wanted to, [but we] found ourselves in a big huge hole, but we fought through it. That's a good sign for any team to be able to do that."
Oates will probably be the NHL player of the week for the second time this season, and his stats only tell part of the story. He had two goals and 11 assists for 13 points in his last five games, but many of his points came at crucial times, when Washington really needed a boost.
The win leaves the Caps with a magic number of 14 over Carolina in the fight to win the Southeast Division, meaning any combination of 14 points gained by the Caps or lost by the Hurricanes would give them the title.


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