- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

TAMPA, Fla. With the kind of gritty performance this team needs to win, the Washington Capitals defeated Tampa Bay 4-2 last night, ensuring that the Lightning will not overtake them before the NHL shuts down for the Olympics.
The victory gave the Caps a 2-0-1 record since they broke a four-game losing streak, with one game to go tomorrow night at home before a two-week break.
The Caps had been hoping to get eight points from their four matches between the All-Star and Olympic breaks. With one game to go, a rematch tomorrow night at MCI Center against the Lightning, the Caps have earned five of six with two wins and a tie against Nashville.
Washington won because it battled and scrapped against the pesky Lightning, playing what amounts to a playground style for much of the night to protect backup goalie Craig Billington, who filled in ably for Olie Kolzig, out with a sprained knee. If the Caps had played with the same tenacity in front of Kolzig in Nashville on Friday night, he might not have been hurt.
"We played smart like we did for a lot of the game [Friday] night, didn't take chances, kept the puck on the outside, stayed away from the trap and got some timely goals," coach Ron Wilson said. "When the openings were there, we jumped on them. We did what we had to do to win.
"They were three real hard games to play in a row, starting with Minnesota. We got the job done defensively and scored when we had to."
The Lightning mounted a fierce attack late in the game, but the Caps' Chris Simon scored into an empty net to end the suspense.
The Caps did not play an inspired first period, and Wilson shook up the lines for the second. Washington emerged with new determination, taking the game to Tampa Bay and quickly reversing the flow.
Washington was up against Nikolai Khabibulin, the goalie ranked in the NHL's top 10 whom the Russians hope to ride to Olympic gold. He beat the Caps 1-0 earlier in the season, and it looked like he might do it again after the first period.
The second period was different, and Khabibulin didn't last. Dainius Zubrus dribbled a score over his left pad 3:34 into the period for his 10th of the season to tie the game. Less than two minutes later, Ulf Dahlen beat him with a wrist shot from the hash marks for his 19th of the season.
The backbreaker for Khabibulin came at 12:27 when Colin Forbes put a little wrist shot on goal. The puck appeared to hit the goalie on the shoulder, bounced and hit his glove, then bounced and hit his pads and went into the cage. With that, backup Kevin Weekes was hustled into the game.
But the damage was done. The Caps were the healthiest of two injury-riddled teams and did not back down from almost any challenge Tampa Bay attempted to mount.
Notes Michal Pivonka, the retired center who played more than 800 games for Washington, attended the game with his family. Pivonka, now a Tampa resident, still holds the club record for assists in a career with 418. … Left wing Ivan Ciernik and defensemen Rob Zettler and Todd Rohloff were the Caps' healthy scratches last night. …
Vincent Lecavalier, the young center the Lightning is trying to build their offense around, left the game in the first two minutes with a twisted left ankle. With him out and the rest of the Lightning's injuries, Tampa Bay was missing 49 of the meager 110 goals the team had scored this season, the league low.


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