- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

The Washington Capitals are playing good hockey at the moment, collecting 14 of 20 available points in their last 10 games. Had they played this well all season, they would have a playoff spot comfortably locked up.
"I just wish we'd stop thinking so negative about everything," coach Ron Wilson snapped yesterday after a brief practice, responding to a question about his team blowing a lead and/or giving away points in a 2-2 tie against Carolina on Friday night.
"I don't think we gave away a point; I don't think we blew a lead. We played a really good team that's hot right now, and it was a great game," he said. "I'm positive about the way we're playing, and if we keep playing like this, we'll make the playoffs."
Washington will try to continue its rise today at MCI Center when it plays Edmonton. Both teams are on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned. The Oilers are in ninth place in the West, the Caps in 10th in the East.
The Caps had a one-goal lead Friday night in Raleigh, but Ron Francis tied the game with a power-play goal. Both teams added a point in the standings, allowing Carolina to maintain a 10-point advantage over the Caps in the Southeast Division. Washington has two games in hand and 17 games left to make up a lot of ground.
A more realistic prospect for Washington is coming into the playoffs through the back door. The Caps have 63 points, three less than the three teams tied for seventh the New York Rangers, New Jersey and Montreal. Pittsburgh, riddled with injuries, is in 11th place with 62 points.
"The most realistic thing we can expect from ourselves is to keep playing as well as we are," general manager George McPhee said. "Everybody's disappointed that we haven't done this all year, but now we're playing well, and if we can play at this level for the rest of the season, we'll be a playoff team."
Certain parts of the Caps' game are starting to come together, but a key component is starting to slip. Since the Olympic break ended in late February, Washington's power play has gone 4-for-25 (16 percent). The Caps have fallen from league leadership to third place in the category.
"It's funny," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "We're playing so well right now, and suddenly the power play is struggling. Imagine if the power play was where it was a couple weeks ago. We'd probably be 8-0 or something because some of those ties would be wins."
Wilson was quick to give Hurricanes goalie Arturs Irbe a lot of the credit for salvaging a tie Friday night, and he did play well after getting a vote of confidence with a sudden glut of goalies in Carolina. But at this stage of the season, a lot of teams are desperate, and Carolina played like it wasn't going to surrender its division lead this time around.
"Obviously, it's a lot easier to convince people to be desperate at this time of the season than it is in October or November," Wilson said. "We're a desperate team. Every point is so important, and we're playing a team [today] that is for the most part also in a desperate situation."
Notes
Wing Dainius Zubrus had the cast removed from his broken right hand but said he wouldn't play against the Oilers today and is eyeing a return sometime next week. … Former Cap Anson Carter is prepping for a return to MCI Center. He had just two goals in 32 games going into Friday night, then added two against Florida.



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