Saturday, February 9, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. The Washington Capitals got a point last night when they could have used two. But at the moment they care more about the health of their No. 1 goalie, Olie Kolzig.

Washington rallied from a one-goal deficit in the third period but ended up settling for a 3-3 overtime draw against Nashville at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, keeping the Caps in the thick of the also-ran race for playoff spots. The Caps had set their sights on winning all four games between the All-Star and Olympic breaks; they are 1-0-1 with two games left against Tampa Bay, starting tonight in Florida.

Kolzig injured his left knee 6:56 into the second period while trying to defend his crease against a Nashville onslaught. He did, but his left knee bent awkwardly under him as he made the second of two stops. He finished the period, giving up two goals, but said neither was the fault of the injury.

He was replaced at the start of the third period by veteran backup Craig Billington, who was beaten only by a shot that zipped past him when it glanced off one of defenseman Sergei Gonchar’s skates, a shot that forged the tie after the Caps had taken the lead.

Kolzig’s availability for tonight or Monday’s game against the Lightning is not known. Much of that depends on how he feels this morning, whether there is swelling and whether he can function properly enough to man his net.

“I kind of got my knee caught under me,” Kolzig said. “All my weight went off to my left side, and I felt something pop or crunch in the knee. I finished the second period, but it was pretty weak and we thought it would be better to just get off, not risk hurting it even more.”

Losing Kolzig for any period of time would just about wipe out Washington’s hopes of getting back into the playoff race. He was having a sensational game last night and was the reason the Caps were within reach, able to rally in the third period.

“I’m really happy with the comeback,” said coach Ron Wilson, who nonetheless was upset that his club didn’t get both points that were available. “We played well in the first period; we played well in the third; in the second period we stunk. Had we had a half-decent second period, we’d have won the game going away.”

Washington had two huge chances to win in overtime when Dainius Zubrus and Jaromir Jagr got in alone on Mike Dunham, but Zubrus pulled up short and the goalie poke-checked Jagr, and the danger was over.

Actually, the game was over after that for Jagr. The Predators saw before the game that he was using what they thought was an illegal stick and waited until the proper moment to challenge it. The stick was measured and found to be over the half-inch allowance, putting the Caps down a man for the last 41 seconds of the game. They weathered that storm.

The standard fine for an illegal stick is $500, but it might have been much more if the subsequent Nashville power play had cost the Caps the game.

That development spoiled an excellent night for the first line. Jagr had a goal and two assists, as did Adam Oates. Left wing Ulf Dahlen had the game’s first goal and the three of them played like men possessed, realizing as veterans should what was at stake.

“We had some situations where I thought we were going to finish the game off,” said Wilson, referring to Washington dominating the overtime period. “Zubrus elected not to shoot, and essentially Jagr did the same thing. He stickhandled himself into a hole when maybe he should have shot. But it’s easy to say that from the bench; those guys were on the ice.”

Nonetheless, the Caps’ road nightmares are not over. Last night left them with a record of 7-17-4 away from MCI Center.

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