- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2002

Over the course of a season there are going to be victories that are artistic gems, and there are going to be victories that are surrounded by bad odors. In the end, they all count two points and move a club closer to a goal.

The Washington Capitals last night were in a fairly generous mood, up to a certain point. After that, it was time for the business at hand and the Florida Panthers finally fell 4-3 at MCI Center as the NHL resumed after a two-week Olympic break.

Washington extended its modest unbeaten streak to a season-high five games (4-0-1), which says a lot about its troublesome campaign. The Caps have 22 games left and must win about two-thirds to get into postseaon, and even that is not a sure bet.

The Caps gained ground last night on Carolina, which lost to Toronto. Washington is now six points behind the Southeast Division leader and has two games in hand. The Caps also made up ground on the New York Rangers, the current eighth-place club in the East, and Montreal, which is ninth. Washington trails the Canadiens by a point and the Rangers by three.

It was not an evening without cost. Wing Peter Bondra missed the game with the flu; a club official said he could be back as early as tomorrow but that was not a sure thing. It is his second bout with the flu this year and he missed three games the first time.

The Caps also lost versatile wing Dainius Zubrus late in the first period with what a team spokesman said was a right arm injury. A club source said it did not appear serious and would be re-evaluated today.

Washington should have had an easy time with Florida, a team simply trying to gain a measure of respect as it goes through a horrendous season. The Caps were up 2-0 after just eight minutes but then the rust of the two-week layoff started to show. The Caps gave up their sixth shorthanded score of the season and two others that should have been prevented and needed a power play goal in the third to pull it out.

Adam Oates, Matt Pettinger, Jaromir Jagr and Ken Klee scored for the Caps, the last coming nine minutes into the third after Washington allowed the Panthers to come all the way back and gain a tie early in the period.

"I tried to go 5-hole and all of a sudden I didn't hear [the crowd], there was dead silence," Klee said. "It was just sitting there. I thought maybe it was already in because goals like that don't happen for me, sitting there on the goal line waiting for me to tap it in."

But it was, and it was made possible when left wing Steve Konowalchuk drew a holding penalty against Olli Jokinen that set up the power play off which Klee scored.

It was the first game back for Konowalchuk, who had shoulder surgery in mid-October and missed 54 games.

Obviously not in game shape yet he skated like a man with a refrigerator strapped to his back he nonetheless was involved from the start and clearly was a welcome addition.

"He's the heart and soul of the team," said goalie Olie Kolzig, who then made clear the importance of Konowalchuk and his absence: "He's a big reason we are battling for a playoff spot. We missed him the first half. He was grinding out in the corner … once he gets the rhythm and flow going, there's no question it's a huge plus for us."

The important thing coming out of last night was the fact the Caps didn't fold or even settle for a tie. Realizing the importance of every game the rest of the way, the club did rally to help control its own destiny.

"Getting a win here was huge for us," Klee said. "We had guys at the Olympics, all over the place and for us to get a win right away at home, that's what we needed.

"A confident team is going to win a lot of games and that's what we need to be."


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