- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Just when it seemed the Washington Capitals weren’t going to head into their two-day holiday break happy, their all-time leading scorer came through last night.

Peter Bondra smacked home his 14th goal with just 53.8 seconds left to give the Caps a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens before an announced 12,469 at MCI Center.

The play that moved the Caps’ record to 11-20-3-1 overall and 3-2-2 under new coach Glen Hanlon began when Rick Berry slid the puck high across the Montreal zone to fellow defenseman Dwayne Zinger.

The rookie fired on net. Mike Grier kept the puck alive and when it bounced off the right arm of backup goalie Mathieu Garon, Bondra was there in the left crease to knock it in for Washington’s first victory in seven games against a Canadian foe.

Despite being outshot 40-22 — 15-6 in the third period — the Caps also remained unbeaten in 10 games when they’ve led after two periods.

“Sometimes you just have to be in the right spot at the right time,” said Bondra, who could have been given a penalty shot when he was slashed from behind by Sheldon Souray on a shorthanded breakaway 13 minutes before his game-winner. “That’s what goal scorers do. I’m not saying I’m a goal scorer.”

What else would you call a player with 465 goals, more than all but three NHL players over the last 14 seasons?

Jeff Halpern is one of those hard-working players whom Hanlon loves. In the seven games since Hanlon took over as coach, Halpern has shown new life. He was never more alive than last night when he grabbed a loose puck, raced past Montreal defenseman Stephane Quintal and deked Garon before flipping his fourth goal over the fallen netminder at 4:56 of the third period on assists from Jaromir Jagr and Sergei Gonchar. That gave the Caps a 2-1 lead.

“Halpy has more invested in this organization than any of us,” Hanlon said of the Potomac native and lifelong Caps fan. “If that goal gives him confidence, that’s great, but we don’t need Halpy to be our top scorer. We need everybody to score.”

However, not only were the Caps not given that penalty shot, but with just 25 seconds left in the five-minute major on Washington’s Joel Kwiatkowski, Mike Ribeiro kept the puck alive on Francis Bouillon’s shot from the right point. Michael Ryder then knocked it out of the air and past goalie Olie Kolzig at 8:24.

A week ago last night, Jagr left Atlanta’s Philips Arena with his left hand tightly wrapped and his left thumb minus its nail after he was slashed. Last night, in his second game back, Jagr couldn’t get the puck off his stick as he skated across the goal mouth with Washington owning the extra skater thanks to cross-checking penalty at 4:27 of the second period.

However, Jagr got another chance later in the period and took advantage.

After Gonchar’s shot from the left point rebounded to Dainius Zubrus and the puck squirted free again, Jagr pounced on it, skated toward center ice and flipped his 13th goal past Garon and into the top right corner of the net at 5:37 to break the scoreless tie. Jagr has 31 points in 22 games, Gonchar 25 points in 25 games.

Jan Bulis tied the game 1-1 at 3:18 of the third period, not long after his former team deftly killed its fourth penalty. Saku Koivu grabbed a loose puck in the Washington zone and passed to the onrushing Bulis, who whipped his seventh goal between Kolzig’s legs.

Note — Caps rookie defensemen Steve Eminger left the game late in the third period with an undisclosed injury. He isn’t believed to be seriously hurt. His absence and that of Kwiatkowski with the game misconduct left Washington with just four defensemen, including the little-used Zinger.

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