- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 8, 2001


PITTSBURGH The line of non-believers got a lot shorter after last night.

The Washington Capitals watched Mario Lemieux tie the game with a late third-period goal last night but did not stand around and mope. They responded and, this time, were rewarded for their excellent effort.

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Second-year player Jeff Halpern scored off a picture-perfect pass from James Black at 16:40 of the third period, staking the Caps to a thrilling 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins and extending Washington's road unbeaten streak to nine games (8-0-1), second longest in team history.

Playing his usual huge part was goalie Olie Kolzig. Going against Lemieux and his cronies, Kolzig turned aside 30 of 33 shots that came his way to improve his record to 33-19-8.

The Caps had a 2-1 lead entering the third period and thought they had put the game away when Lemieux took a roughing penalty, which is a story in itself, and scored on the ensuing power play for a two-goal lead with 11 minutes to go.

But they don't call him Super Mario for naught. Alexei Kovalev brought the Penguins back to within a goal with Lemieux assisting at 10:27 and Lemieux knotted the score with 6:03 left. It is a scenario the Caps have seen repeatedly for a decade, an excellent effort wiped out by a late Pittsburgh surge.

It happened again last night but the Caps were doing the surging. Richard Zednik fed Black down low and the left wing immediately sent a hard pass to Halpern in the left wing circle. Goalie Jean-Sebastien Aubin danced in several directions trying to figure where the puck was headed but didn't have a prayer. It zipped past him and into the top right corner for Halpern's 17th goal of the season.

It was Washington's second win over the Penguins in five days, the first 4-3 on Saturday night at MCI Center. The win also kept the Caps 11 points ahead of Carolina in the fight for the Southeast Division title, and also moved Washington ahead of Philadelphia if tie-breakers are figured in for seedings in the Eastern Conference.

Coach Ron Wilson did some juggling of personnel to get the best effort he could out of those on the bench. He dropped to three lines from four, benching three players who did not show him a lot in the first period, and went with nine forwards the rest of the way.

Earlier he lost defenseman Ken Klee with "headaches" when he fell over backward when he was hit and stuck his head. He had lost his helmet seconds before.

"We didn't play very well in the first period, we had some guys who didn't compete," Wilson said. Among those benched was Jan Bulis, one of the heroes the previous night against the New York Islanders.

"We shortened our bench quick because we viewed this as a playoff-type game. That's how you want to grade yourself against another team and I thought from the second period on we started doing the things we're capable of forechecking, our power play came through for us again. In the third period, we did a great job," Wilson said.

Those who stood out with the extra ice time were Black, who has been battling back from a leg injury a season ago, and Trent Whitfield, who was called up in mid-season to supply some grit to the fourth line. He finished the game last night with Adam Oates on the top line.

"This is a tough game," Wilson said. "Those guys, I know what they are going to do in certain situations [even though] they may not stick handle through a whole team once every three weeks. They are going to be effective and shut down the other team and make plays. Black made a couple great plays, he set up two goals. As you get closer to the end of the season, you rely on guys like that."

Sergei Gonchar, Richard Zednik and Oates scored the other Caps goals.

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