- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 2, 2003

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. New Jersey Devils captain Scott Stevens said it best: "They deserved better." Nobody in the Washington Capitals' dressing room would disagree.
The Caps lost a game they dominated last night 2-1, with the winning goal coming from Stevens 2:54 into overtime. The Caps played so well that the first New Jersey goal didn't come until 33 seconds were left in regulation.
But none of that mattered. Washington backed into a tie for first place in the Southeast Division after it got a point for taking the game to overtime, while the Tampa Bay Lightning came away with an impressive victory, defeating the Senators 2-1 in Ottawa.
Tampa Bay and Washington both have 71 points, but the Lightning have a game in hand, technically moving them ahead of the Caps. Washington has a chance to regain lost ground today when it plays host to Carolina.
This is the first time since Jan.4 that Washington has not had sole possession of the Southeast Division lead. The Caps' lead over Tampa Bay grew to seven points Feb.12. Four days later that advantage shrank to six, and the slide was under way. Winning the division is critically important because it provides an automatic top-three seed and home-ice advantage for at least the first round of the postseason.
"A lot of our games have been like playoff games, and I'm sure that's the way it was for them tonight," said Stevens, who broke in with the Caps in the early 1980s. "They played hard, and they played well they probably deserved better than what they got. But we had some good goaltending and got some timely goals."
Washington got one goal, a backhander from Jeff Halpern at 4:36 of the second, and nothing else, mainly because of some extraordinary goaltending from Martin Brodeur, who won his 34th game of the season.
The Caps came within an inch or so or actually winning in regulation. Seconds before Jamie Langenbrunner scored the tying goal at 19:27 of the third period with the Devils up a man after pulling Brodeur, Caps captain Steve Konowalchuk nosed the puck toward the blue line. The puck was on the blue line when center Joe Nieuwendyk reached out and snagged it, preventing it from going into the neutral zone.
What might have happened had the puck traveled that extra inch will never be known. Instead, Nieuwendyk found Langenbrunner, and he shot into a screen, the puck glanced off a stick en route and Olie Kolzig lost his shutout bid 33 seconds from the end of the game.
"We beat them at their own game," Caps coach Bruce Cassidy said. "We had a chance on the power play, Peter Bondra missed an open net, [Brodeur] made a great save on Kip Miller. We missed an open net in overtime. We were better than them in the third period, but it came down to the last push, and we just didn't execute down the stretch. And we had a bad line change at the end. Jaromir Jagr didn't get it done and got caught running around in our own end. Basically, four leaders of our team could have made a difference at the end, and they didn't.
"I thought we should have won. That's the positive. It does cost us a valuable point and hopefully not too much confidence. We beat them at their own game for 59 minutes against a team that plays very well, so we got to look at it that way. That's what I want to emphasize."
Both teams had ample opportunities to score more and put the game away, but the two goalies played excellent games. The Caps probably had the better chances on the two power plays they were finally awarded, both in the third period. But both of them turned into exercises in undisciplined play, with New Jersey nearly scoring short-handed twice. Washington has scored once in its last 25 power-play opportunities.
On the plus side, the Caps easily killed the four New Jersey power plays, showing that half the special teams is functioning.

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