- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

TORONTO It was going to be a defining moment in the season, one way or the other. Lose and you pull your hat out of the ring. Suck it up to win and you're still in the race.

The Washington Capitals last night kept pace with the teams they're trying to catch, rallying twice to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 with a huge performance topped by Jaromir Jagr's best night as a Cap (two goals, two assists).

But there is a significant downside. Nearly 11 minutes into the third period, Sergei Gonchar was nailed across the head by Toronto center Darcy Tucker's elbow, knocking the Washington defenseman unconscious. He lay on the ice for several minutes before being assisted from the ice.

There was no penalty called despite two referees and two linesmen being on the ice at the time.

Tucker skated at full speed for 20 or more yards, left his feet and caught Gonchar across the head with his left elbow, flattening the defenseman on the spot. Gonchar was carrying the puck at the time, making claims by officials that they didn't see the incident almost beyond the realm of possibility.

Gonchar, who is the leading scorer among NHL defensemen with 23 goals and 55 assists, has a history of concussions and might have suffered another from the force of the blow. He was still being examined by medical personnel last night, and the Caps did not know the extent of his injury.

The Caps' coaching staff was infuriated on the bench, screaming at referees Dave Jackson and Kevin Maguire, the latter a former Maple Leaf.

"Kevin was telling me it wasn't his zone," coach Ron Wilson said, "but all three zones weren't his zone in regard to us tonight. How [do we] get a former Leaf doing a game? I don't understand that one, and I'm not questioning the integrity, but it's an embarrassing job of officiating. We won the game and we lose an All-Star defenseman."

"How can you miss this?" Wilson said he asked the officials from the bench. "The guy runs from 100 feet, 'Gee, we didn't see it.' At some point, we have to get better referees or get their eyes checked. I mean, I don't understand that. How can you miss that? Four sets of eyes didn't see what happened. That's impossible."

Toronto coach Pat Quinn called it a "good body hit" but said he didn't see anything wrong with it. He acknowledged, however, that another check of the tape might cause him to change his mind.

Tucker said he didn't remember the incident but added, "I play hard, I went for the man with the puck."The man carrying the puck was Gonchar.

Meanwhile, Washington played a horrible first period, falling behind 2-0 before Jagr, who said he didn't feel well, decided enough was enough and it was time to get back in the race. He scored Washington's first and third goals and assisted on the second and fourth. Frantisek Kucera got his first of the season and Dainius Zubrus his 12th, the game-winner.

"It's hard enough to win in this building on a normal night, but now we're missing Adam Oates and we're on this long road trip that was just a pure character win," goalie Olie Kolzig said. "We got down 2-0 early tonight and we easily could have said, 'OK, the season's over, it's not meant to be,' but we buckled down and that's the way it's got to be for the rest of the year.

"If we get down, we know if we lose a game we could be out of it," Kolzig said. "The guys dug in and battled back. It's unfortunate that we put ourselves in this situation, but the guys seem like they're responding right now."

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