Thursday, February 7, 2002

The Minnesota Wild come at you like hungry relatives at dinnertime. They are relentless, not afraid to be knocked down and more than willing to get back on their skates and come right back at you. They haven’t been defeated this season, in their minds, but they have run out of time on 25 occasions.

The Washington Capitals were pushed hard last night at MCI Center before edging the Wild 2-1, only the Caps’ second victory in nine games. It broke a four-game losing streak at home and started what the team hopes is a late drive toward a playoff spot.

Nonetheless, the Caps are still on the outside looking in. They remain in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, six points out of the last playoff spot with just one-third of the regular season remaining. Time already may be more of an obstacle than the opposition.

The feisty 2-year-old Wild got a shorthanded goal from Richard Park 3:07 into the final period, and from that point Washington goalie Olie Kolzig had to be even sharper than usual to keep his team on the winning side. Kolzig was the difference as Washington was outshot by 11 (30-19), nearly half of Minnesota’s total coming in the first period when the visitors might have been ahead by three or four had Kolzig not been on his “A” game.

“I had a little more energy than I had a week ago,” said Kolzig, coming off a five-day break and finally rested. “When you’re losing, you’re not as confident as a team as you might be if you are on a four- or five-game winning streak. It’s baby steps: You win one game and take the good things and apply it to the next game and so on. That’s how you get on a streak and build confidence to keep yourself on a long streak.”

Washington needs a long winning streak even to get back to .500; last night’s win left them 21-26-8-1. General manager George McPhee and coach Ron Wilson had said it is of paramount importance to win all four games before the Olympic break starts Tuesday. After last night, three of those games remain.

Other than the outcome, last night’s game might not have been terribly exciting for fans that favor 6-5 shootouts. Both teams are playing the trap through the neutral zone or variations of it, slowing down the game and limiting offensive chances. In fact, Minnesota coach Jacques Lemaire is credited with inventing the trap while he was coaching in Montreal, one of the reasons Canadiens fans drove him out of town.

“Tonight was really exciting because we came back from a 2-0 deficit to score a goal and we kept plugging and plugging,” Lemaire said. “Guys were skating and moving the puck well. It was fun to watch.”

Perhaps, but only portions. His knuckles probably turned white when he spotted left wing Ulf Dahlen coming out from behind the net 14:51 into the first period, pausing for a split second and lifting a short drive into the far corner. It was Dahlen’s third goal in the six games since he returned from a foot injury, and his 16th of the season. Kolzig was awarded an assist on the goal, his first of the season and eighth of his career.

The winner came 13:32 into the second when Peter Bondra one-timed a pass from Adam Oates and sent a rocket past Dwayne Roloson, his league-high 14th power-play goal of the season.

“We’ll take it, we get two points,” Dahlen said.

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