- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

In a nutshell, this is the situation with the Washington Capitals after they beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 at MCI Center yesterday:
For the eighth time this season, they moved to within a point of .500 (27-28-10-1) as they continued their mad dash toward what they hope is a playoff spot. They are a point behind Montreal and the New York Rangers in the struggle for the final Eastern Conference berth, and also well within reach of seventh-place New Jersey.
Washington is 7-2-2 in its last 11 games and yesterday it rallied from a two-goal deficit, riding Peter Bondra's 18th career hat trick for the win. The victory became possible after goalie Olie Kolzig and the skaters in front of him settled down after a rough first period when they allowed two goals that were preventable.
"Kolzig would say he should have had both goals and it should have been 0-0," coach Ron Wilson said.
Mike Comrie, taking advantage of a bad Caps pass off the rear glass, jammed one through Kolzig's pads 90 seconds into the game and Todd Marchant whipped a shot past the goalie's right elbow 12 minutes into the period.
But that was it. It was sort of like the bad dream was over once the first period came to an end. Then it was time to start playing for real. Bondra had the first Caps hat trick of the season and the wing's first in 365 days, and Dmitri Khristich had the game-winner early in the third.
Khristich's goal broke a 2-2 tie four minutes into the final period when Steve Konowalchuk and Ken Klee set up up the center as he crossed in front. Khristich took the pass and casually lifted the puck over the prone Edmonton goalie to notch his sixth of the season and first game-winner.
"We showed a lot of resilience," Wilson said. "The big goal was a great play by [Sergei] Gonchar to get it to Bondra. Bondra found a way to put it in the net, that sort of un-handcuffed us after the first period."
Gonchar put an excellent fake on the Edmonton defense. He pretended to shoot and then quickly passed to Bondra in the right circle. He one-timed it and Glen Metropolit blocked goalie Tommy Salo's view in front.
Twelve minutes later Metropolit picked off a pass and fed Bondra as he broke free. The wing raced down the middle and picked the right corner, the only spot Salo left open.
"I thought he had nothing to shoot at," the goalie said.
"I was thinking to make sure nobody catches me. … Make sure you hit the net or make the goalie make a good save," Bondra said. "He couldn't make the stop. … He was patient and didn't overplay me. I ended up shooting and it went in."
Wilson was glad he did.
"He was in a long slump," the coach said of Bondra, who has six goals in his last three games but had only three in 18 before the current streak started. "He is a streaky scorer and is starting to find one of those streaks."
Bondra's final goal looked like a team sprint into the Oilers end when it started as a 3-on-1. The wing brought the puck in, hesitated, looked as if he might pass and ripped a wrist shot into the cage. Salo, who once had three straight shutouts against the Caps when he played for the New York Islanders, never had a chance.
"I was looking at [Brendan] Witt and I used his position to maybe fake, maybe pass, and the [Oilers] defenseman put his stick down so I chose to shoot."
The ice was immediately flooded with hats from the sellout crowd to acknowledge Bondra's feat, his 18th, which extended his club record.
"It feels good any time people cheer for you or for your team," Bondra said. "You can take energy from it and hopefully bring it to the game and use it in the game. It's a good feeling."


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