- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

This is not the way the hockey architects had it mapped out. You don't not if you have any choice in the matter head into the final few games of a tight season with the freshman class leading the way on defense.

"We don't have a choice," Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson said yesterday. "We don't have time to feel sorry for ourselves."

Time is the one thing the Caps don't have. Washington's regular season ends in 12 days, and how the club plays in its last six games will decide whether there is a second season. The Caps have precious few opportunities to correct the multiple sins of the first three-quarters of the season.

"We could have made it easy on ourselves by playing well at the beginning of the season, but this type of hockey is fun. It keeps the juices flowing," said goalie Olie Kolzig, acknowledging that better play in front of him has finally made his job easier.

Washington is playing with part of the next generation of Caps defensemen Todd Rohloff, Nolan Yonkman and J.F. Fortin in the lineup because more than half the normal starters are out. Calle Johansson injured his shoulder in November and required surgery; Ken Klee broke his toe; Frantisek Kucera got run over by teammate Jaromir Jagr and is exhibiting the symptoms of a concussion; and Sergei Gonchar has a concussion.

The tentative good news is that Gonchar might be ready to play tomorrow night against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He practiced yesterday and said he felt good but he has said that before. Wilson even has announced before that the scoring sensation was ready to jump back in. But that hasn't happened. The recovery time from the foggy never-never land of a concussion remains impossible to predict.

"I hope he's [ready], but that's day-to-day," Wilson said. "You saw how he practiced. Obviously he can practice [today]. Last time I thought he was fine, but he was out there bumping into guys and he didn't feel very good."

"I was taking it easier today, and things were going well," Gonchar said. "I will try to do more contact [today] and see how my head reacts to it. Do I feel better? Yes, I do."

But the decision whether to play is not solely his. A Cap with a concussion must go at least two days symptom free before he is allowed to return to action and then only after a thorough exam by a physician.

Gonchar was injured March 21 in Toronto. Klee and Kucera were hurt last week in Buffalo. Klee worked in the weight room yesterday, while Kucera stayed at home.

"I don't think they'll be ready" for the Lightning, Wilson said of Klee and Kucera. "If they had practiced [yesterday] then you'd have to at least raise the question, so I don't think they'll be ready until at least the weekend."

So Rohloff, Yonkman and Fortin keep coming up with big games, helping out until the injured regulars return.

Notes Brian Sutherby helped spark an upset against Regina in the first round of the playoffs by his Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan) junior team. That delays the center's return to the Caps for about two weeks or until his team gets beat. … General manager George McPhee said no decisions have been made yet on which players to bring up from the Portland, Maine, farm team. The Pirates, with many of their players already here, are on the verge of playoff elimination.

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