- The Washington Times - Friday, April 5, 2002

In the old days when Montreal ruled the NHL on and off the ice, the Canadiens dictated to the NHL schedule-makers that all games against Washington would be played before Dec.15 every season.
There was a good reason for this. Right around Christmas every year and through late February or early March, the Caps were world-beaters. Their strong mid-schedule streaks usually were good enough to overcome abysmal starts.
This season Thanksgiving came and went, as did Christmas and New Year's. Nothing.
But then the uprising began. It may have started right around Groundhog Day, and it certainly has picked up steam. Washington is 14-6-2 since the All-Star break at the start of February and has won seven of eight games and four in a row for the first time this season.
"We're definitely playing as good hockey for the past month as I can remember from my days as a Cap, and it's put us in the position we're in now," said co-captain Steve Konowalchuk, a member of the team for 10 years. "Our team is real confident right now, everybody is playing hard every shift, playing the right way, and that's why we're getting wins. You can't pick a better time, and now it's just a matter of trying to carry it on."
Washington now has two options for getting into the playoffs. Carolina, the Southeast Division leader, is four points ahead of the surging Caps and playing only .500 hockey lately. The battle for eighth place between the Caps and Montreal seems headed for a photo finish.
When the Caps started to turn things around, they were 20-26-8-1 and appeared headed for the draft lottery, where losers get their moment in the sun. They backed themselves into a very large hole and couldn't get out of it themselves.
"Until we get some help from another team we don't control our own destiny," coach Ron Wilson said. "We could run the table and Montreal could as well. We've got to hope for some help along the way so we can continue to feel there's hope in making the playoffs."
Washington played much of the season as if there was going to be plenty of time to make up lost ground. Now time is the Caps' enemy.
"We have no one to blame," said Konowalchuk, who played just five games before being sidelined by shoulder surgery until Feb. 26. "It's an 82-game schedule, and the first game is just as important as the next one we play. We dug ourselves a big hole, but now we've given ourselves a chance to get back into the race. Now we have to assume we have to win every game for the rest of the season."
Ken Klee (broken toe) is one of four defensemen who have been sidelined at the same time recently, adding to the pressure on the rest of the team to win while shorthanded.
"We're winning games every night now," he said. "We beat some good teams on the road and that gives everybody confidence. We've had one three-game skid since the All-Star break, but other than that we've been rolling pretty good."
Notes Defenseman Todd Rohloff was returned to Portland, Maine, yesterday now that there are enough healthy bodies on hand. Frantisek Kucera (concussion) skated briefly but took no contact; he said he felt better but not well enough to play. Goalie Olie Kolzig, who has played in 68 games this season, took the day off.



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