- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

The fun starts tonight for the Washington Capitals if you can call it that. It is more like nerve-racking torture, with scoreboard watching as the No.1 pastime.
The Caps play host to the Los Angeles Kings, and Buffalo plays at home against Tampa Bay. The Caps lead the Lightning by one point in the fight for the Southeast Division championship and home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. After tomorrow's games, Tampa Bay will have made up the one game in hand it owns over the Caps when it plays in Montreal.
"I think it would be funner if they were 20 points behind and we had clinched the thing," Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said yesterday. "I think it's fun in general when you're in a good position to win your division and advance and start talking about who we might meet in the first round. We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but it's fun in that regard."
The Caps haven't secured anything yet, never mind clinched anything. They are a division leader now but only eight points away from not being in the playoffs at all.
Cassidy wasn't with Washington a year ago but certainly has researched what happened, when the Caps needed one extra win coming down the stretch to edge Montreal and sneak into the final playoff spot. The Caps went 9-2-1-1 in their last 13, but the extra win never came. Montreal went to the playoffs; the Caps went to the golf course.
"Montreal and the Rangers could catch fire, and we could go the other way," Cassidy said.
Meanwhile, Cassidy welcomed the newest Cap yesterday. Wing Sergei Berezin, obtained from Chicago at Tuesday's trade deadline, will play on the left side with Robert Lang and Dainius Zubrus.
"I talked to him briefly about the opportunity that exists here for him," Cassidy said. "He's a proven scorer, and we've got some scorers out of the lineup. We've done pretty well as a group lately and he has to earn his way into the lineup, and he understands that. I think he just wants an opportunity to show what he can do, go out there and be a part of it."
Berezin comes from a team that has been torn by internal problems and injuries. He joined the Blackhawks during the offseason and is now playing for his fourth team in two years.
"It was a tough season in Chicago, and obviously the team wasn't going to make the playoffs," Berezin said. "It was obvious they were going to make some trade, and I was part of one of them. I'm excited to come to a team that's going to compete for the Stanley Cup, a team that has great talent up front and a great goaltender."
Like anybody else in his situation, Berezin is going to have to adapt to what the Caps are doing rather than vice versa. There simply isn't time for the latter, no matter who was involved.
"The coaches do what they do, and my job is to fit in where they put me and do my best out there," he said.
Cassidy admitted that chemistry has been a problem all season among some of the top-end forwards, but he hoped putting Berezin with Lang might spark something. Lang is a good scorer and playmaker who sees the ice very well. Berezin is a natural scorer who is blessed with great speed.
"We have to fit him in somewhere where he's going to play his best, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having a scorer out there," Cassidy said. "Berezin has some speed, and that benefits Robert. When he had success in Pittsburgh, he had some fast wings with him, and he could get the puck to them with speed."
Notes Defenseman Brendan Witt has yet to get back onto skates after being hit by Philadelphia center Keith Primeau during the second period of the Caps' 2-1 overtime win Monday night. Primeau crunched Witt against the rear boards, and the defenseman had trouble breathing and left immediately. X-rays were negative and his breathing has improved, but he won't be ready any sooner than Thursday in Calgary.
The same holds true for right wing Jaromir Jagr (cracked bone in wrist) and left wing Kip Miller (bruised hand). Jagr was hurt against Boston on March8, Miller against Detroit on Feb.22. Both skated yesterday, with Miller taking a far more active role than Jagr, but neither will be ready tonight or Sunday against Colorado. Jagr has yet to touch a puck since being slashed by Joe Thornton four minutes into the third period.


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