- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

When was the last time? That might be the question Washington Capitals fans are asking themselves this morning after the team turned a 2-0 series advantage into a 2-2 tie against Tampa Bay.

The answer is April 1996, when the Caps won the first two games against Pittsburgh, both on the road, then lost four straight.

The Caps last night committed a series of costly mistakes that made the 3-1 victory all the easier for Tampa Bay, its second straight at MCI Center - an arena where it had lost 11 in a row before Tuesday night's Game 3.

It means the best-of-7 series is now tied 2-all with Game 5 in Tampa tomorrow night and Game 6 in Washington on Easter Sunday afternoon. Game 7, if necessary, will be Tuesday in Tampa.

Peter Bondra scored his third goal of the postseason for the Caps. Martin St. Louis scored twice and linemate Vincent Lecavalier once for Tampa Bay. On almost any other night the usually defensively conscious Caps would have prevented all three goals, but the way things have fallen in the last two games, it's a wonder more weren't scored.

"They came up here, they were determined, they were hungry and we didn't play as well as we did the first two games," said goalie Olie Kolzig. "When one team raises its level and another lowers theirs, that's what happens."

It was scoreless for the first period and a half and the Caps should have had a motivational edge. Bondra was hit with a double minor for high-sticking 39 seconds into the middle period and Washington not only killed both ends of the penalty but it outshot Tampa Bay 2-1, executed seven clears and forced the Lightning into an icing. Penalty killing doesn't get any better but it can get worse, which the Caps would show later.

Washington could not get anything generated offensively. Nikolai Khabibulin rejected every Caps thrust as if it was child's play while his teammates outworked the Caps along the boards, winning most of the little battles.

"It's obviously very disappointing," Kolzig said. "I think they were a frustrated group coming up here, we played pretty darn good, we were suffocating them, we weren't giving them too many quality chances. But they rose to the challenge. Now it's a best of three. We can't sit here and be the deer-caught-in-the-headlights team, we've got to get back to the way we played last week, raise our game up again. Now it's do or die time."

St. Louis' first goal came 12 minutes into the second period when he took the puck at his own blue line and went straight down the middle. He put a nice move on Brendan Witt to get past him then whipped the puck through Kolzig's legs.

Bondra tied it a few minutes later with a good veteran move. Jason Doig fired from the right point and Bondra, for some reason left unguarded close to the net, slipped in front and easily redirected it into the net.

It stayed tied for two minutes. Kip Miller, on the left point on the power play, fumbled the puck and Dave Andreychuk grabbed it. With only Sergei Gonchar back, he drove down the right side, St. Louis the left. Gonchar played the puck carrier but the pass went to St. Louis at the last second and he put the shorthanded, game-winning goal away.

The insurance came very early in the third. Lecavalier won a draw and pulled it back to Jassen Cullimore, who immediately returned it. Jeff Halpern had Lecavalier but the center paid no attention and took an off-balance shot from the hashmarks.

"I've talked about it before," said the well-traveled Andreychuk, the Tampa Bay captain. "The resiliency we've had all year long is that when our backs have been against the wall, we've responded. We've played in big games. Tonight I think we showed a lot of discipline. That's something we didn't do in [games] one and two."

On the blackboard in the Caps' dressing room, one word was written: Discipline. The scoresheet showed Tampa Bay with three penalties, the Caps with six. The Lightning scored no power play goals but the team killing penalties usually doesn't have time to concentrate on offense.

Well, Tampa Bay found time for that last night as well.

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