- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

The Washington Capitals returned from Florida 12 days ago with newfound confidence from a two-game unbeaten streak and a five-game homestand looming to help gain serious ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

That positive feeling is ancient history after last night’s 3-1 loss to the Boston Bruins that left the Caps 1-3-1 during the MCI Center quintet.

Washington (11-22-3-1) fell 13 points out of the East’s last playoff spot in losing to sixth-place Boston, which came in with a six-game winless streak and just two victories in its previous 17 games. The Caps also sank to a league-worst 5-10-1-1 at home and 3-4-2 under new coach Glen Hanlon.

“Not winning games at home is hard to take,” Hanlon said.

To make matters worse, the Caps scored first but then gave up two goals in a span of just 3:34 to fall behind for good. It was the second straight game that Washington scored in the first 13 minutes and then never again. The Caps, who scored 20 goals in Hanlon’s first six games, have just five in the past three.

“We’re definitely much better than we were [before Hanlon replaced the fired Bruce Cassidy on Dec. 10], there’s more energy and we’re winning battles all over the ice, but the puck isn’t going in for us,” said Washington’s Peter Bondra.

The go-ahead goal was particularly galling since it came when Washington’s third-ranked power play was at work. Bondra couldn’t handle a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, setting up Boston’s Travis Green and Ted Donato for a two-on-none shorthanded breakaway. Sergei Gonchar tried to get back to help goalie Olie Kolzig but didn’t arrive before Donato launched the shot netward at 19:05 of the first period.

“It was a mistake and we paid for it,” Bondra said.

Rick Berry, a defenseman not known for offensive flair, made the play that gave the Caps the lead at 12:14. After firing a shot on Felix Potvin off a feed from partner Jason Doig, Berry got another opportunity and again smacked the puck on goal. Jaromir Jagr, battling down low, kept the puck alive and when Potvin went down, all Jeff Halpern had to do was lift the rebound over the fallen goalie.

Halpern, who averaged 17 goals in his first three full seasons but scored just two in his first 25 games this year, has three goals since Hanlon replaced the fired Bruce Cassidy behind Washington’s bench on Dec.10. The assist gave Jagr four points in four games since he returned from a thumb injury.

Boston star Joe Thornton drew a cross-checking penalty on rookie defenseman Steve Eminger at 1:01. The Caps killed it without allowing a shot. However, when Thornton won an offensive zone faceoff with Dainius Zubrus and drew the puck back to Hal Gill at 15:31, his big body and that of Zubrus apparently screened Kolzig enough for Gill’s shot from the left point.

Brian Rolston had a great chance to extend Boston’s lead at 11:05 of the second period after Berry got turned around in front, but Kolzig made the point-blank stop. Gonchar was called for hooking Green 1:45 later and Rolston slammed a shot off the left post during the power play but did not score.

Caps fourth-liner Trent Whitfield was ready to jump on Bondra’s toss on net at 3:50 of the third period but was knocked aside by Bruins defenseman Sean O’Donnell. Bondra went flying on his next shift, courtesy of Glen Murray’s stick, but again no penalty was called.

And then the Bruins added the clincher at 7:37. Washington couldn’t clear its zone as Michael Grosek passed to Shaone Morrison. The rookie defenseman, recalled from Providence earlier in the day, hurled the puck toward the net from Kolzig’s right and Patrice Bergeon got free from Washington defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski to redirect the puck past Kolzig. The assist was Morrison’s first point in 12 career games.

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