- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2001

On March 14, the Carolina Hurricanes played host to lowly Montreal and got drilled 6-3. The next night the Hurricanes ripped the Washington Capitals 3-0 at MCI Center.

Does this matter now? You bet. On Monday night, back in Raleigh once more, the playoff-challenged Canadiens whipped up on the Hurricanes again, this time 4-2. And where does Carolina play tonight?

Right: MCI Center against the Caps.

At stake is one or more of the following: the Caps continuing their drive toward a second straight Southeast Division title, Carolina trying to hold off Boston (which is two points back and at Toronto tonight) for the final Eastern Conference slot; both teams trying to regain momentum en route to whatever lies ahead.

"They're going to be a desperate team, and we have to show a little more desperation or urgency in our play than we did the last time, when we were 13 points up," Caps coach Ron Wilson said. "That is just too much of a margin to have. I said in January [that] having that huge a lead tends to make you a bit complacent. If anything, losing five games [in a row] at this point takes away from the complacency."

A win and a tie in this week's home-and-home series with Carolina would give Washington its second straight division crown. But Washington has won only one of its last six games, 3-2 Saturday night in Tampa. The losing streak included two shutouts one by Carolina's Arturs Irbe, who has a goals-against average of 0.98 against the Caps in three decisions this season.

What happened Monday night to Carolina is happening fairly regularly in many venues: down-and-out teams with nothing to lose are playing without fear and beating playoff pretenders. It is tough to get motivated for an opponent en route to a record number of losses.

"I thought Carolina would win, but it just shows you I'm sure they were sitting there thinking we'd win a couple of the games we lost," Wilson said. "It's difficult to beat anybody at this time of the season, especially when some of the teams that are out of it can play loose and all the pressure is on the better team to win, the team that has something on the line."

Carolina coach Paul Maurice apparently feels the same way.

"If I'm doing anything to motivate the team at this point, then we have a serious problem," he told reporters after the loss to the Canadiens. "I said what I had to say on the bench, and I would expect that this hockey club be pretty motivated on its own."

It's that time of the season. In Boston, they're already pointing fingers and placing blame, right or wrong, and the Bruins are still very much alive. Coaching, goaltending, forwards and defensemen are all getting fried; only the Zamboni drivers are getting away with a free ride.

"What we have to do is go out and get the job done I can't ask our team to do more than that," said Wilson, who spent more than half his one-hour practice working on special teams.

Notes Left wing Chris Simon (bruised right shoulder) didn't skate again but is being described as day-to-day. He has missed eight of the last 11 games… . If the Caps have the home ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, their options are pretty limited. The Wizards have games scheduled at MCI on April 11, 13 and 15, meaning the Caps would play their first two games on bad ice on the 12th and 14th.

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