- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2003

This was the one the Washington Capitals had been saying all along that they had in them. Perhaps this was the one they needed to get things rolling.

With Robert Lang earning his first career hat trick, Dainius Zubrus scoring twice and Brian Willsie scoring his first as a Cap, Washington crushed Carolina 7-1 last night at MCI Center to break a three-game losing streak and earn just its fourth victory.

Olie Kolzig was outstanding, stopping everything that came in his direction until about 10 minutes from the end. He had plenty of help from his teammates, something that has not always been the case this season.

“We weren’t used to putting up these kind of numbers since the first game of the season,” said Lang, who had four points to give him a team-high 21 for the season. “It definitely was a great win. Everybody felt really good, and everybody contributed.”

The stage had been set in the opening seconds of the game. Washington had three shots on goal within the first 26 seconds, and the fourth was Lang’s first goal just 84 seconds in.

“I just think we started well,” Lang said, refusing to take credit for setting things up. “Bates [Battaglia] started it with sort of a half breakaway. He didn’t score but they had a couple chances, and we scored right away. Anytime you have a good start, everything is a little bit easier than when you’re behind, trying to play catch-up.”

Carolina had 30 shots on goal, and Kolzig stopped all but one.

“I thought we did a pretty good job [keeping the crease clear],” he said. “To be honest with you, I made a couple stops I didn’t even see, but for the most part we did a pretty good job. We didn’t allow any odd-man rushes against, and if I’m just allowed to play the shot and not have to worry about 2-on-1s and breakaways, we’ll be in good shape.”

The immediate difference last night was that every Cap seemed to be playing with one thought in mind: I’ve got your back. Washington players were everywhere for one another, jumping on loose pucks whenever a teammate lost it or a pass went awry.

It was also evident to Kolzig, who found himself in the strange position of not having to worry too much about rebounds. First, he didn’t leave that many bad ones, eliminating his biggest problem of the season. Second, whenever he did, somebody scooped it up and took it out of the zone.

And the goalie was on top of his game. Seven minutes into the second period, for instance, there was a mixup in the Washington end, and rookie sensation Eric Staal found himself face-to-face with the former Vezina Trophy winner. Staal approached with no interference to a point just inside the hash marks and fired. Kolzig stopped the point-blank drive with his chest and batted it aside.

Later in the same period Kolzig backed up the old saying that a goalie has to be lucky to be good. Right wing Radim Vrbata was exiting the right circle and skating toward the net at speed when he suddenly lost the handle. There was nobody between him and Kolzig, but he couldn’t get a shot off.

Lang’s first of the night was almost an accident. He also had more to contribute. He circled around the net right to left less than 90 seconds after the start of the game, looked for somebody to pass to, found nobody and shot. The puck zipped through Kevin Weekes’ legs.

Zubrus and Willsie connected in the second period, in effect putting the game out of reach.

Zubrus and Alexander Semin touched off a third-period burst, driving Weekes from the cage, with Lang scoring his second and Boyd Gordon the second of his career before the period was five minutes old. Lang recorded his first career hat trick late in the third on the power play.

In between the Washington goals, Ryan Bayda ruined Kolzig’s shutout.

The 1-0 lead the Caps carried into the second period was the first time since Nov.4 the team had led after one period. The last time was in Tampa, when the Caps were up 2-0 (and won 5-1). The three-goal lead Washington took into the third was the first time the club had led after two periods since then.

The Caps and Hurricanes combined for four goals within a span of 1:16 in the third period to better the old Caps record of 1:26 in December 1974.


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