- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

BUFFALO, N.Y. It was well after the time when the Washington Capitals usually would have been on their bus en route to the airport but most of them weren't even dressed. They stood around, the modest ones covered with towels, and watched a TV on the wall of the visitors' dressing room in HSBC Arena.
Suddenly a huge cheer went up as Florida scored to go ahead of Montreal, a lead the Panthers would hold and allow the Caps to complete a perfect day.
Washington rallied from a two-goal deficit last night and beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3, moving the Caps into a tie in points (73) with Montreal for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens, however, have a game in hand.
The win moved Washington three points ahead of the Sabres and idle New York Rangers and six points ahead of idle Pittsburgh.
The Caps have eight games left, five of them at home. Last night's win guarantees the Caps at least a .500 road trip on their longest journey away from home this season, eight games; they are 4-3 with the finale Friday night in New Jersey.
Washington won last night when Chris Simon used his powerful wrists to put a shot past goalie Martin Biron with just under two minutes to play, shooting the puck through the legs of Buffalo defenseman Jay McKee to screen the goalie. It was his 14th goal of the season, his first since Feb. 9 and came at the perfect time.
"This is a big win for us, obviously," said coach Ron Wilson. "We talked about going 7-2 down those last nine games so we could have afforded to lose tonight's game without it being the end, but then our margin of error shrinks. So from that perspective, you get it out of the way. A win in here is huge for us because we figured we'd have to get a split in the final four road games and be almost perfect at home.
"It was big, especially with the people who are down with injuries. We lost Frantisek Kucera (nerve damage in the neck) early in the second period so some young guys on defense and some of the other guys really had to step up and get the job done."
Nobody stepped up more than center Dainius Zubrus, who has been spectacular since he was moved into the first line spot vacated when Adam Oates was traded. He had a goal last night and assisted on every other Caps goal, the first four-point night in his career.
"Since we traded Oates and we asked Zubie to play a different position, he's finding he's got a lot more freedom to roam around and he's got the ability to do it. He skates, he's a horse, he's outstanding," said Wilson, who forgot to mention that the former wing is also playing with considerable pain from a break that may not heal until this summer.
While the ending was perfect for the Caps, the start wasn't as usual. Washington was down 2-0 again before the game was very old and they appeared to be skating in sand. Routine defensive assignments were being missed and the Sabres were all but pitching tents in front of Olie Kolzig.
Ken Klee started the turnaround late in the first when his wrist shot slipped under Biron's left arm. Early in the second period a Brendan Witt pass was tipped into the Buffalo goal by a Sabres defenseman and the score was tied.
Less than a minute into the third Zubrus, with a defender on him, took a puck around the right corner of the net and swept it into the cage with one very long arm controlling the stick, putting Washington up for the first time.
Five minutes later Miroslav Satan redirected a pass on a power play in front and the game was tied again.
Then it was Simon time.


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