- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

The Washington Capitals' chase for a playoff spot has ended. And for the third time in the past six years, the Capitals will be watching the postseason on TV.
After dozens of missed opportunities over the first two-thirds of the season, the Caps were eliminated last night after playing their best stretch of hockey since the season began.
Carolina defeated Tampa Bay 4-2 to clinch the Southeast Division title, Washington's last chance to get into postseason. The Caps had to win their last two games and then get some help, with three teams handing the Hurricanes three losses in a row. It didn't happen.
The Caps had won the division title for the past two seasons, but one of the biggest losses of the season 3-2 to Carolina at home after leading 2-0 provided one of many stumbling blocks. It was a case where the club played many games as if there was plenty of time to worry about the playoffs tomorrow. Now tomorrow has arrived.
Washington lost only two of its last 11 games (8-2-1), but even a run that good wasn't good enough. Had the Caps mounted a similar drive at any other point in the season, their destiny would have been in their own hands.
The trade last summer when Washington obtained right wing Jaromir Jagr was the biggest shock of the offseason. With all that talent and one of the highest payrolls in the league, not making postseason registers an even bigger shock.

Good excuse
Sergei Gonchar was at the hospital with his wife Monday when she gave birth to the couple's first child, forcing the defenseman to miss the team photo session. The team dressed minor leaguer Ivan Ciernik in Gonchar's No.55 uniform and inserted him in the defenseman's place, Gonchar's smiling face to be pasted in place later.
This has happened before. Some years ago defenseman Kevin Hatcher, who had a history of oversleeping and missing buses and planes, overslept and missed the team photo shoot. The Caps dressed Zamboni driver John Millsback, a tall individual, in Hatcher's uniform and placed him where Hatcher should have been, later inserting the proper mug shot, and almost nobody knew the difference.

Army of media
A group of uniformed U.S. Army journalists visited practice yesterday and a few were inside the enclosed team area when players started coming off the ice. The sight of soldiers in the stands and in the players' area prompted this remark from Jaromir Jagr: "What [is this]? Nobody can stop us? They send in the Army here."

Lottery interest
The draft lottery will be held in New York on Tuesday, an annual event that usually has little interest for the Caps. This year is different.
The 14 teams not involved in the playoffs take part in the lottery. There is a weighted lottery system favoring the team with the fewest points, followed by the second worst team, etc. The winner can advance five places in the draft, meaning only the worst five can achieve No.1. As of last night, Atlanta, Columbus, Florida, Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh were bringing up the rear of the field.
The Caps, ranked ninth in the East before last night's games and 19th overall, have three picks in the first round. If the draft were today, they would be picking 12th with their own pick, 18th with Vancouver's (for Trevor Linden) and 26th with Philadelphia (for Adam Oates).

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