- The Washington Times - Monday, April 8, 2002

The lights are dimming and rapidly on the Washington Capitals' hugely disappointing season. Two teams ahead of the Caps continue to roll, or at least stumble forward, while other clubs are closing in from the rear.
Washington is on its best run of the season, going 7-2-1 in its last 10 games, and it is still losing ground. The Caps have three games left in the regular season, and they must win all three to have a chance at survival. Even then there is a distinct possibility that won't be good enough. In a nutshell, here is the situation:
The Caps have 80 points and three games left, meaning they can earn a maximum of 86 points if they run the table. The games are at home against the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night, in Buffalo against the Sabres on Friday night and at home against the New Jersey Devils in the season finale on Saturday night.
cThe Atlanta Thrashers scored with 19 seconds left yesterday to gain a 1-1 deadlock with the Carolina Hurricanes, the Southeast Division leaders. That gave the stumbling Hurricanes 84 points with four games left. The magic number for Carolina to clinch the division title is three any combination of three points it gains or the Caps don't gain, and it's over. Carolina also has a game in hand on Washington.
Carolina got its goal from Ron Francis on a power play in the first period, giving the veteran his 1,700th NHL point. The Hurricanes captain is just the fifth player in NHL history to reach that plateau.
cThe Montreal Canadiens straightened their grip on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference last night by defeating the Senators 3-1 in Ottawa. That gives the Canadiens 85 points, leaving the magic number for Montreal to knock out Washington at two. Yesterday's win by Montreal also moved the Canadiens ahead of the Caps in that category, 35-34, which is the first tiebreaker.
Washington management may also be keeping its eye on another situation. The Caps own three first-round picks in June's entry draft. If they can't finish eighth or better, then positioning really only matters for the draft. There, the lower the finish, the higher the pick, and two teams are threatening to overtake the Caps.
cThe Buffalo Sabres, who looked finished March 26 when the Caps defeated them 4-3, crept back within a point of Washington when they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-3 yesterday. Mathematically, the Sabres could still make it, but it's a long shot. Buffalo has three games left, including one with Washington.
cThe New York Rangers were eliminated by last night's developments, but many of the players appear to be making statements now to back up future salary demands. New York is just two points behind the Caps with three games to play.
Washington entered the weekend winners of four in a row and seven of the previous eight but then stumbled. The Caps and Senators battled to a 0-0 draw Friday night, and the New York Islanders jumped out to a 5-1 lead before settling for an uncomfortably close 5-4 win Saturday night. It was the Islanders' first victory over the Caps since March 1997, breaking a futility streak of 0-19-3.

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