- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

For 30 minutes last night, the Washington Capitals made a game of it, staying within a goal of the San Jose Sharks, a swifter team that plays a system with the discipline of a marching band.

Seconds into the second half of the game, wing Dainius Zubrus took a double minor for high-sticking, and 20 seconds into the second infraction, Ken Klee took a cross-checking penalty. The Caps were down two men for a minute and 40 seconds.

Thirty-four seconds later, the Sharks scored with the two-man advantage, and the complexion of the game changed for good, propelling San Jose to a 5-2 victory.

San Jose has now won seven in a row (four of them on the road) and has won five or more consecutively three times this season. The Sharks have outscored the competition 29-10 during the latest run, and therein is the difference in the two teams. Washington had been on its best run of the season, going 4-0-1, outscoring the opposition 16-10.

And the news wasn't good elsewhere either. Carolina went into Boston and clubbed the Bruins to go back up by eight points over the Caps in the race for the Southeast Division title and the automatic playoff berth that goes with it. Washington plays at Raleigh, N.C., on March 8 in a game that should have a major bearing on the division race.

Caps coach Ron Wilson and most of his players insisted they played as well as the Sharks. But the visitors also stuck to their system and went back to it again and again until it worked.

The critical goal in the game was a perfect example. While two men up 13 minutes into the second period, the Sharks repeatedly moved the puck around until they got it to Owen Nolan in the right circle and he fired away. On his third try, he finally ripped one into the cage behind goalie Olie Kolzig, putting the Sharks up 3-1.

"I thought we played very well," said Wilson. "In most stretches of the game, we outplayed them; they outscored us, that's the bottom line. We shot ourselves in the foot when we took the penalty to put us down 5-on-3."

Klee, the hero in a 4-3 victory over Florida on Tuesday night, acknowledged it was a bad penalty on his part.

"I'm battling with the guy and just a little too much. [Im giving him] too many shots in the back," the defenseman said. "I'm trying to make him back into me, but it's my fault. I can't take that penalty. I get the penalty to make it 5-on-3, and they buried it. They hammered it. That drove the nail into us. When you're down two goals in a game, it's much tougher than just one."

Jaromir Jagr matched an Adam Graves goal in the first period when he drilled one of his own rebounds into the cage, giving him five points in three games. Adam Oates assisted, running his point streak to six games. His two assists gave him 60 points on the year, tops for the Caps.

"He has been playing well for weeks now," Wilson said of Jagr. He's getting a couple points every night, he's closing in on the scoring race and Oates looks rejuvenated out there."

The last Washington goal came with 75 seconds left from Sergei Gonchar, his 19th.

Those who didn't play in or finish the Caps' last game returned to action last night. Peter Bondra recovered from the flu attack that forced him to miss the Florida game, and Zubrus showed no signs that the injury to his right arm that forced him to miss two periods was bothering him. And defenseman Gonchar recovered from the bruised foot that kept him out of practice Wednesday.

Last night's game was the first of a 10-game stretch in which the Caps will play seven games against Western Conference teams, a stretch that includes an eight-game road swing that ties a franchise record for most consecutive away games. Washington is 5-7-2 against the West.

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