- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2003

The Washington Capitals started to tinker with line combinations yesterday but no changes were definite, and the combinations for tonight's Game5 in Tampa, Fla., might come out of today's morning skate.
The Caps are facing virtually a must-win game. Washington and Tampa Bay are knotted at 2-2 in their best-of-7 series, but the Lightning have recaptured home ice, for whatever that is worth. The visiting team has won every game in this series.
One of the things Caps coach Bruce Cassidy did yesterday was put the checking unit back together, reuniting Jeff Halpern with wings Steve Konowalchuk and Mike Grier. But he cautioned that there was no guarantee they would skate together tonight.
"I think down there it was easier just to roll lines," Cassidy said. "We got away from that a bit here. You get caught up in trying to get away from matchups, and sometimes it works against you."
But Cassidy was pondering whether to add a more physical player to the first line so that Jaromir Jagr doesn't have to take so much punishment. At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, he gets most of the attention because he has been playing with smaller Kip Miller and Michael Nylander. The unit has been skating against Tampa Bay's top defensive pair, Jassen Cullimore and Pavel Kubina.
"I just think that right now, with Cullimore and Kubina both big, heavy guys, you might need a banger to help Jagr out, someone to wear them out down low," Cassidy said.
That probably would mean moving big Dainius Zubrus off the second line and onto the first, replacing Miller on the left side. But nothing has been decided.
"I think we'll get back to basics, put back together our three lines that we think will work and mix in the fourth, get a lead and it'll be easier to play," Cassidy said.
Getting a lead is probably the key. The team scoring first in each of the four games has won, forcing the trailing team to change its game in an attempt to catch up. But even when Washington caught up, as it did in Game 3, penalties proved its undoing when Tampa Bay scored a power-play goal in overtime.
Meanwhile, Nikolai Khabibulin was the victor Wednesday night, 3-1, but even Tampa Bay reports indicated he played far from his best game. One source indicated it "might have been the shakiest 22-save, 1-goal-allowed performance in Stanley Cup history."
"We did a good job as a team," the goalie told the St. Petersburg Times. "We didn't give up a lot of shots. The defense blocked a lot of shots. And [the defense] cleared away the rebounds. We played well."
Khabibulin went on a 12-0-4 run late in the season, a streak that began about the time the Lightning beat the Caps 3-1 in mid-February and started their climb to the top of the Southeast Division standings. The Caps entered that Feb.17 game with a seven-point lead, but it vanished over the next month.
The Caps breezed to a 2-0 record in the first two games playoff games in Tampa, and it appeared the series would go no more than five games. That has all changed.
"We didn't make mistakes [down there] like we did up here," said Calle Johansson, the Caps' veteran defenseman. "We can't make mistakes like that and give them great scoring chances. We have to play more as a unit. And if we made a bad mistake down there, we had somebody backing him up better. We were a little closer together, playing tighter as a unit. Maybe here we were too spread out and there was one guy getting open."
Which, so far, is all it takes.

Notes Trent Whitfield, center of the fourth line and a key faceoff man for the Caps, didn't skate yesterday after Tampa Bay center Alexander Svitov went knee-to-knee with him Wednesday night in the second period. Whitfield was assisted from the ice but was on the bench for the third period and took a faceoff in the defensive zone. His availability for tonight was unknown. If Whitfield can't go, Brian Sutherby would move back to center with Ivan Ciernik probably dressing. …
Jagr, who is on the ice three minutes more per game than any other forward, and goalie Olie Kolzig were given the day off. Cassidy said, however, that Kolzig would start tonight just in case there was any doubt.

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