- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 20, 2003

Whether teamed with Ulf Dahlen or Mike Grier, Jeff Halpern and Steve Konowalchuk have been part of the Washington Capitals' formidable checking line for four seasons. But with his team facing playoff elimination in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals today at MCI Center, coach Bruce Cassidy is relieving Halpern, Konowalchuk and Grier from shadowing Tampa Bay's lightning-hot trio of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Vaclav Prospal.
Instead, Cassidy is gambling that putting his newly formed top offensive line of Dainus Zubrus, Robert Lang and Jaromir Jagr against its Tampa Bay equivalent will force St. Louis and Co. to work harder on defense and thus wear them down on offense.
"We shook up the deck a little bit," Cassidy said. "We're just trying to find combinations that will work. I've taken a little heat at times this year for not [always] playing our checking line against [the oppositions] top line. You try different things. You can go with that standard checking line vs. scoring line and hope that it turns around, or at some point it's time to try something else. I think we're at the point now."
After holding the line of Lecavalier, Prospal and Ruslan Fedotenko to one point and a minus-8 defensive rating while scoring two points themselves (both by Grier) with a plus-3 rating during Washington's easy victories in the first two games, Halpern's line was badly outplayed in the last three after Lightning coach John Tortorella substituted waterbug St. Louis for the bigger Fedotenko.
St. Louis (seven points), Lecavalier (four) and Prospal (three) have combined for 14 points and an astonishing plus-18 rating in Tampa Bay's three straight triumphs while Halpern's line has gone scoreless with a minus-8 rating. Lecavalier's line scored all nine of the Lightning's goals the last three games and has 10 of its 12 goals in the series.
"I don't remember a series where one line scored all the goals like this," said Jagr, in the playoffs for the 12th time in his 13 seasons. "After the first two games, they had nothing to lose and they took a risk. Right now, it looks like it was a good risk. Those three guys were dead for two games, and then they made some good plays in the third game and they've been on a roll since."
Five-time scoring champion Jagr, who had four points in Game 2 while skating with Kip Miller and Michael Nylander, had just three points over the next three. All three of Lang's points have come in the first four periods of the series. And Zubrus didn't dent the scoresheet the past two games after scoring four points in Games 2 and 3.
Peter Bondra didn't skate after limping off the ice in the third period of Friday's 2-1 loss. However, he and Cassidy said he'll play today. Bondra, who has a team-record 29 playoff goals (three in this series), will team with Nylander and Sergei Berezin. Halpern's line will stay intact as will the three defensive pairs.
However, Miller, whose turnover led to St. Louis' critical shorthanded goal in Game 4, will be scratched in favor of Brian Sutherby. The rookie will be on the fourth line with Ivan Ciernik and Trent Whitfield.



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