- The Washington Times - Monday, April 21, 2003

From team officials to players, the Washington Capitals thought they played their collective hearts out yesterday afternoon and evening. But the results were about the same as they usually are: The club was eliminated from postseason earlier much earlier than expected.
Tampa Bay scored on a power play 4:03 into the third overtime for a 2-1 victory in Game6 to clinch the Eastern Conference quarterfinal and advance to a second-round series against New Jersey.
And the Caps go on vacation. Washington's season ended on Easter Sunday with an overtime loss, the same way it ended in 1987 when it lost to the New York Islanders 3-2 in the fourth overtime at 1:58 Easter Sunday morning.
Yesterday's winning goal, scored by pint-sized Martin St. Louis, came after the Caps were called for too many men on the ice defenseman Jason Doig was detected going over the boards early and becoming involved in the play. It was a penalty that had to be called because Washington would have had an odd-man break and a distinct opportunity. Obviously, that would not have been fair to Tampa Bay.
"The only thing you can do is give them credit," said Steve Konowalchuk, the Caps' captain. "I thought we took it to them pretty good early in the game but they just kept battling, hanging in there. They took advantage of chances. I really thought we deserved to be ahead by more than a one- or two-goal lead. They did a good job of keeping shots to the outside, that was their game plan. We tried to adjust to that but we didn't get enough in at the net. It's tough to lose in triple overtime."
Konowalchuk was not on the ice when the too many men call came but heard teammates yelling "Get off, get off" to Doig.
"It was one of those [penalties] where you'd like to say 'is it really necessary to call that' but the flip side is, like the referee told me afterward, if they don't call it, we score there so they have to make it," Konowalchuk said. "If we score, the other team's upset. It's unfortunate, but …"
The goal ended what had been a tremendous duel between the goaltenders, the Lightning's Nikolai Khabibulin and Washington's Olie Kolzig. Khabibulin ended the night with 60 saves and Kolzig had 44. Both were brilliant at times.
St. Louis' goal also ended a seemingly endless stretch of time when the Caps' pricey offensive array failed to make a difference. Right wing Jaromir Jagr had a pair of goals in Game 2 but none before or after. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar had no goals; Brendan Witt had the only goal by a defenseman.
Peter Bondra had Washington's only goal yesterday, a power-play strike that put the Caps ahead 1-0 late in the second period. He led all Caps scorers with four goals in the series while Michael Nylander had three.
Optimism this playoff season was higher than most because the Caps won Games1 and 2 in Tampa by a lopsided margin of 9-3. The series victory seemed all but assured.
But the young and inexperienced Lightning squad matured in a hurry. Coach John Tortorella made a significant change in his forward lines and St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Vinny Prospal were unstoppable no matter what line combination and/or defensive pair the Caps threw at them.
The Lightning won Game3 early in the first overtime when the Caps took a pair of penalties, awarding Tampa Bay just the second overtime 5-on-3 advantage in NHL playoff history. The Lightning won Game4 when a turnover resulted in a short-handed, go-ahead goal, and took Game5 when St. Louis and his mates caught the Caps napping in the third period.
It was a playoff series in which there were no lead changes, wherein the team that scored first always won until yesterday. Bondra scored at 17:34 of the second but Dave Andreychuk, Tampa Bay's 39-year-old captain, tied it with just 4:06 left in regulation. St. Louis won it when he lifted a shot into the net off Kolzig's left arm.
The loss left Washington with four straight defeats, its longest losing streak of the season. The team lost only four of 20 games all season to the rest of the Southeast Division.
But the Caps have lost four in a row in postseason before. In a series that was remarkably similar, the Caps won the first two games in Pittsburgh in 1996 before being rubbed out in four straight. And there was the finish of the 1998 playoff season, when the Caps were beaten four straight times by Detroit. But that was in the Cup finals.

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