- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 7, 2002

At various points throughout the game, hockey fans at MCI Center last night let the players know they didn't appreciate what they were watching and certainly didn't classify it as professional hockey.
The Washington Capitals were up and then down; the Atlanta Thrashers were mostly up and there were times when the visitors didn't have a lot to say about it the Caps were playing a lot of giveaway.
When they finally decided there was a game on the line and it was time to turn things around, the Caps scored three times within the last 4:30 and defeated Atlanta 7-6 in overtime.
That result is going to come as a shock to the hundreds if not thousands who left early with Washington down by a pair and trying to give away more. The Caps played poorly in front of a goalie who was pressed into service at the last minute, Craig Billington, and he did not have a banner night.
Billington was in the game because Olie Kolzig came up lame early in the pregame warmups and could not play. He sat on the bench as the backup but was unavailable no matter how bad it got and it got ugly.
With 2:06 to go in regulation, Calle Johansson scored his second of the season to bring the Caps within one. With 28 seconds left Steve Konowalchuk tied it with his fifth, beating ex-Cap Byron Dafoe.
At 2:24 of overtime, Michael Nylander came down the deep slot, reached a pass, paused and let one rip. His goal was the winner and extended Nylander's point streak to nine games (7-12-19), one of the NHL's longest streaks this season.
"I was thinking how we could come out and play such a good game against Pittsburgh [on Tuesday] and be so uncommitted tonight," Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said. "At the same time I was thinking, 'If we can just get a goal, you never know.' We got a break with a penalty call [Ilya Kovalchuk for diving] and we took advantage of it with our second unit.
"What I told the guys between periods was, every time something good happens to this team, we can't sustain it, we get a mental mind cramp. Sure enough, we score a goal to make it 5-4 [before the Caps took a penalty, and Atlanta turned it into a 6-4 lead].
"But I will say this: [The Caps] came back, and you got to give them credit not too many teams come back when they're down two goals that late in a game. I'm not going to sit here and criticize the guys, we got the win, we've got work to do, I understand that, we've got lots of work to do."
The game did not start well for the Caps. Eight minutes in, Jaromir Jagr committed a horrible turnover at the Atlanta blue line, creating a 2-on-0 breakaway. Dany Heatley scored easily.
With three minutes to go in the first, Peter Bondra got his own rebound, twirled and beat Dafoe, his first goal in his last nine games.
Bondra and Jagr scored for the Caps in the second period, Jagr's shorthanded, but the Thrashers scored twice that many. In fact, second-year player Kovalchuk had a hat trick against the Caps within 11 minutes. Frantisek Kaberle got the other.
Washington general manager George McPhee said goalie Sebastien Charpentier would be recalled and meet the team in Buffalo today. He didn't play for Portland last night, nursing what McPhee termed a minor hamstring problem.
If Kolzig is unable to go tonight, it will be the second time this season he has missed more than one game at a time with an injury, unusual for the goalie. Kolzig sprained his left wrist during the morning skate Oct.28 in Pittsburgh and did not return until Nov.7 against Florida. The Caps were 2-3-0 during the time he missed.
Kolzig appeared to be having a routine pregame skate until he suddenly approached the boards leading to the dressing room, skating gingerly on his left leg. Warmups had just started, he took a drink of water, tested his leg again and went to the dressing room. McPhee said the injury was a hip flexor, but he had no idea how long the goalie would be out, if at all.
Billington, who was relegated to the minors as training camp ended but recalled days later, did not finish two of the four games he started this season before last night, posting a record of 0-3-1 with a goals-against of 4.23. His last start had been Oct.30, when he played the first 22 minutes against Boston and surrendered four goals before being pulled in the Bruins' 7-2 victory. He sat for the entire month of November and first five days of December before seeing action again.

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