- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2001

A week ago the Washington Capitals were a team in trouble. The power play was on a 3-for-24 slide, the penalty-killers had surrendered five goals in three games and, understandably enough, the club had lost four straight, a figure that was to grow to five.

At the moment, the Caps have scored the last 10 goals in their past two games, both wins. They are on the verge of clinching a playoff spot and wrapping up their second straight Southeast Division title as they prepare for the playoffs, which start April 11.

Washington's turnaround is as startling as its downward spiral.

"Even when we were on our winning streak, we had some bad habits that were creeping into our game; they just weren't as noticeable because we were winning," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "All the guys realize we weren't playing that good before the [March 13] trade, and it finally caught up to us against Anaheim [a 2-0 shutout loss].

"Actually, it caught up to us against Ottawa, but we had one of those unbelievable periods that might never happen again and won the game," he said, referring to a four-goal third period rally that produced a 6-5 win.

The Caps face the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh tonight after playing what Kolzig called "probably the best hockey I've been involved in with this organization, as far as everybody doing their job." That statement carries more than a little clout because Kolzig has been around since 1989.

"The most encouraging thing for me was the third period," coach Ron Wilson said of Wednesday's 7-0 dismantling of the Hurricanes. "We went out and played just as well, if not better, than we had in the first and second. That was important. We didn't go out and have a bunch of guys want to join the goals parade. We stayed on the defensive side of the puck, stayed in their face, made life miserable. We played for 60 minutes."

The problems of a few weeks back seem to be that things were coming too easily. The skaters and goaltenders were playing so well that victories were falling into their laps. Human nature being what it is, some shortcuts appeared, they were taken and the losing started.

"You lose a few in a row and you start doubting things, thinking too much in games, not reacting," Kolzig said. "We were in Florida and had three good days of work and correcting things our mistakes, our defensive mistakes. For whatever reason, whenever we play our best defensive hockey, like we did [Wednesday] night, we create a lot of chances in the other end. I think the guys truly believe that."

There was agreement yesterday on one other thing that the Hurricanes tonight should be a desperate team that has backed itself into a tie for the final playoff spot in the East with just six games left. Carolina has lost six of its last 10 and did not appear to be a team on the verge of a rebound.

"I was surprised they didn't come out harder," Kolzig said, "and as the game went on, I thought they were less and less interested in it."

Still, Wilson doesn't anticipate a similar subpar effort by the Hurricanes tonight.

"I would expect them to come out in the first 10 minutes and try to reestablish themselves," Wilson said. "A beating like that could bruise your pride, so I'm sure that's what their coaches and leaders will appeal to. We've got to come out and try to play the same way we did."

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