- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

RALEIGH, N.C. Which team was better was never in question. The question was whether the Washington Capitals could continue to play as well in the third period last night as they had in the first two.
The Caps took too many penalties during the final 20 minutes but otherwise maintained their cool, rolling to a 4-1 victory over Carolina and moving back into a first-place tie with idle Tampa Bay atop the Southeast Division.
Washington now has 45 points and has added to its total in its last 11 games, going 6-0-3-2 for 17 points. The Caps have not lost a game in regulation since Dec.14.
What Washington hadn't been doing is putting teams away when it had the chance, which is why some recent games have gone into overtime.
"That was pretty much the main thought from everybody in the room tonight between the second and third, that we need to start developing the killer instinct and put teams away," said right wing Mike Grier, who scored the Caps' first goal. "We came out right from the start in the third and put pressure on them. We took a few too many penalties but kept an aggressive frame of mind."
The Hurricanes, Stanley Cup finalists last June, were never really in it. Grier scored in the first minute, and Washington was up 2-0 before the first period was halfway through. The struggling Hurricanes just tried to prevent a rout after that.
"Our team is playing well right now," Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We just said [the Hurricanes] struggle coming out of the gate, they're going through what we did with talk of trades and maybe shaking up the team, they're in a tough stretch. It's not a time to feel sorry for them. Get on them in the first, see what happens and maybe they'll lose their composure."
The Hurricanes have developed a habit of giving up goals early and often, and last night was no different. Carolina surrendered the first goal for the 15th time in its last 17 games, but at least it wasn't the winner.
Washington's checking line, which starts every game, was still on the ice on its first shift. Center Jeff Halpern was on the right side and spotted Grier barreling down the middle. Halpern sent a pass into the slot, and Grier redirected it with a quick flick of his stick to put the Caps up 1-0 just 46 seconds into the game.
The Caps could have and maybe should have put the game away when they were the recipients of a two-man advantage for 1:27 seven minutes into the first. They shot more often than usual but came away empty.
But the power-play units managed to tire the Hurricanes. The Caps' fourth line, put on the ice to give the skill players a break, took advantage. The rebound of a shot by Andreas Salomonsson came out to Kip Miller, and the veteran casually wristed a shot past Arturs Irbe at 9:31. That was the winner.
Carolina closed within a goal early in the second. Ron Francis came down the right side and let a wrist shot go from the middle of the right circle. It appeared to be a stoppable shot, but it got through Olie Kolzig.
Steve Konowalchuk got that one back at 13:08, lifting a Halpern rebound into the net, and Peter Bondra made it 4-1 early in the third when three Carolina players provided a perfect screen for his shot.
Notes The Caps play host to Florida tonight, the first of a four-game homestand. The New York Islanders are in town Monday, the New York Rangers on Wednesday and Toronto on Friday, all Eastern Conference opponents. Starting with tonight, the Caps have 11 games left this month, and all but one are conference games. The only nonconference encounter is Jan.28 at home against St. Louis.
Francis, the Hurricanes' 39-year-old captain, was wearing a full facial mask after receiving a vicious high stick to the face during the 5-1 drubbing Carolina took from the Rangers on Thursday night. Including last night, the Hurricanes have been outscored 42-22 in the first period, a tough obstacle to overcome night after night. They are also 1-13-1 when they trail after two.

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