- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002

It was not the sendoff the Washington Capitals had hoped to have as they departed MCI Center for a long road trip, opening the building for Maryland and the NCAAs.
In a game between two teams struggling to better their playoff positioning, or just get there in the first place, the Dallas Stars pushed through two goals in the first period and opened their own four-game road swing with a 5-2 victory over the Caps.
Dallas strengthened its hold on a playoff berth in the West. Washington was wounded in its battle to make postseason in the East, but not fatally. The Caps still have a shot at a low seed, but their chances of winning a third straight Southeast Division title are diminishing.
Washington narrowed a two-goal deficit to 3-2 in the third period, had momentum and was putting pressure on Dallas. The Stars took a penalty halfway through the final period, and the Caps closed in to create a tie. Goalie Ed Belfour came up with the save of the game on Jaromir Jagr as the Caps wing tried to jam a puck in the right corner, and that was it.
"He was cheating on me," Jagr said, referring to the goalie leaving one post to guard the other, anticipating exactly what happened. It prevented Washington from tying the game and Dallas had little trouble from that point.
"Overall, I was very happy with the way we played," said Caps coach Ron Wilson. "The puck went in for them. We kept banging along; we'd make it 3-2, and then you think of the save Belfour made on Jags or we'd make it 3-3. That's a team that really battles for every inch on the ice. That's the best team we've played in awhile in the sense of how they compete."
Both teams competed last night, and the game was well-played with fast, end-to-end action. Well, not quite end-to-end; the Caps had trouble getting through the neutral zone because of the way the Stars play, with one forechecker and a four-man wall.
"There were times when we didn't dump the puck in in the second period you could say we shot ourselves in the foot by not advancing the puck toward their net enough," Wilson said. "We tried to make too many passes through all the traffic in the offensive zone; they're positioned well defensively and made it difficult."
From the outset, it appeared Washington was primed to jump out to a quick advantage. In the first 30 seconds, Belfour faced three shots, two of them very tough, and rejected them all. In the end, he ran his career record against Washington to 12-6-1 once he weathered the opening minute.
Seven minutes into the game, the Caps gave up a goal while trying to kill a penalty. With Olie Kolzig trying to make arms, legs and stick all go in different directions while under close attack, defenseman Darryl Sydor came in and backhanded a rebound through a hole and into the cage.
Ten minutes later, it was one of those cases where Kolzig could have used some support but didn't get it. Center Pierre Turgeon, the free agent who picked Dallas over the Caps last summer, ripped a shot into the goalie. The puck bounced high in the air, landed and Kolzig fell on it, or thought he did. Jere Lehtinen reached in with his stick, dug it out and flicked it into the cage for a 2-1 lead.
Washington got one back less than two minutes later when Dmitri Khristich scored his seventh of the season, lifting the rebound of Steve Konowalchuk's shot into the net.
The backbreaker for the Caps came late in the second period. Center Joe Nieuwendyk got the puck back to defenseman Sergei Zubov, who unloaded. At least three people blocked Kolzig's view of the puck as it traveled 55 feet and into the lower right corner.
Washington closed within 3-2 nine minutes into the third when Andrei Nikolishin got off a shot that eluded Belfour. But that was as close as the Caps got, with Brendan Morrow and Kirk Muller driving stakes into them Caps later in the third.


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