- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

It is March 8, the Washington Capitals have played 69 games of an 82-game schedule and nothing has been decided. The Caps are atop the Southeast Division, seeded third in the Eastern Conference and five points away from missing the postseason altogether.
"We haven't solidified anything," goalie Olie Kolzig said yesterday after practice. "We're fighting for our division, we're fighting for a playoff spot, we're fighting for consistency and we're fighting for respect, too. It's stretch time, and we've got a lot of things to play for."
The Caps have points in six straight games (4-0-1-1) and have a one-point cushion in the division, but that little run was preceded by three straight stinkers, including a 3-1 loss in Tampa Bay just when it appeared the Lightning were ready to surrender and call it a season. The Caps gave them life and are now fighting for survival in a conference overwhelmed by mediocrity except for a few teams at the top.
Washington had to fight from behind to gain a 4-4 tie with Atlanta after blowing a 3-1 lead Thursday night. The Thrashers are not the same old Thrashers, a lesson the Caps failed to learn this season even though Atlanta averaged close to five goals a game against them. The only consistent thing about Washington vs. Atlanta was that the Caps barely escaped with their skins when they escaped at all.
"We did a lot of good things [Thursday] night; there were a lot of positives," coach Bruce Cassidy said. "It seemed like when we made a mistake, it was in the back of our net. New Jersey was a great game we should have won [instead of losing 2-1 in overtime], Buffalo at home we had a bad period, the Buffalo games up there we were flat. But we managed to win. You need different people to pitch in every night. Your best players some nights are going to struggle like everyone else, but if you can win on those nights, then that's a good sign."
Two of Washington's most recent losses in regulation have come against teams below the Caps in the standings (Carolina and Tampa Bay), while the other two have been against top-end clubs (Toronto and Detroit). The point is, Washington has come to rely more and more on its goaltending while the offense sputters. The Caps have scored more than three goals only four times since late January.
"We've got 13 games left, and Tampa [Bay] is right there with us," Cassidy said. "We're pretty much neck and neck, so it's pretty much crunch time right now. We remind the guys every day what it takes to win and what it's going to take to win in the playoffs and not to develop bad habits when you're ahead or playing lesser opponents.
"We talked about that [Thursday] night. We were up 3-1; we should have put them away. It's a team we let off the hook. In the middle of January, you can sort of look the other way when you have a bad stretch, but right now we should be focusing on the Capitals and playing as well as we can every night. That should be our goal every night, playing good solid hockey, detailed hockey."
Kolzig had the same message but with a slightly different melody.
"Going into the playoffs, we should be on a roll, but maybe it's reversed this year," he said. "In years past, we go into the playoffs on a roll and bow out early. Maybe now we go into the playoffs a little confused and put everything together later. We just need to be a little more consistent, and I don't mean game to game, I mean shift-to-shift, period-to-period. We just have to know every game is a hard game; there are no easy games, whether it's Atlanta, Buffalo or Carolina."
Notes Cassidy said Sebastien Charpentier had recovered sufficiently from his bruised hand to back up Kolzig today in Boston, meaning Maxime Ouellet heads back to Portland, Maine. …
Left wing Kip Miller skated yesterday in a red jersey but did not appear able to put any zip into his swing while trying to shoot, an indication his bruised hand is still too painful for him to play. He did not make the trip to Boston with the team. …
The Caps play Philadelphia at home Monday night. Hard to believe the marketing department hasn't jumped on the return of Joe Sacco bandwagon.

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