- The Washington Times - Monday, February 23, 2004

A major penalty put a major halt to the Washington Capitals’ season-high unbeaten streak.

The Tampa Bay Lightning scored twice on a five-minute power play in the third period and added two more goals late in last night’s game to hand the Caps a 6-3 loss at MCI Center and end their unbeaten streak at four games.

The major penalty was called on Rick Berry for spearing Martin Cibak at 2:48 of the third period. With Berry thrown out of the game and the Caps down a man, Fredrik Modin and Dave Andreychuk scored on redirections of shots by Darryl Sydor and Martin St. Louis from the point at 4:02 and 5:15, respectively. Goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and St. Louis at 16:50 and 18:08 made the final score deceiving.

“I feel I really let down the guys,” Berry said. “I was battling in the corner, going for the puck and pushing each other, and I just turned trying to grab his stick. I have never intentionally tried to spear anybody. I couldn’t believe I was getting thrown out.”

Washington twice came back from one-goal deficits, the second time to take a 3-2 lead 2:00 into the third period when Anson Carter tipped Matt Pettinger’s shot from the left circle. Robert Lang picked up the second assist to raise his NHL-leading point total to 73 and has points in his last 12 games. The goal was the fourth in the past nine games for Carter, who was acquired by Washington from the New York Rangers for Jaromir Jagr last month.

“That’s one of the things that has been hurting us all year,” Caps center Trent Whitfield said of inopportune penalties like Berry’s. “They’re an explosive team. You give them some openings, and they’re going to take them.”

That’s particularly true of St. Louis, the mighty-mite right wing who had five goals and nine points in last year’s playoff series against Washington and whose goal and three assists last night gave him eight points in four games against the Caps this season.

Tampa Bay went 11 games and more than four years without winning in Washington but is 5-1 at MCI since the start of last spring’s first-round playoff series. The Southeast Division leaders are also 16-2-1-4 since Jan.6, so it was no disgrace for the last-place Caps to lose, but it was the second time in a week Washington failed to hold a third-period lead. The Caps tied Ottawa 1-1 last Tuesday after leading with 4:24 remaining.

The Lightning needed less than a minute to take the lead last night. Modin sent the puck behind the Washington net. When Caps defenseman Brendan Witt misplayed the puck, Cory Stillman grabbed it and passed to Sydor. Left alone in the slot, Sydor blasted his first goal since Oct.23 past goalie Olie Kolzig’s glove at 54 seconds.

Todd Rohloff went off for interfering with Brad Richards at 11:30, but Tampa Bay managed just one shot before Stillman was whistled for interfering with Kolzig at 12:36 even though he was pushed into the goalie by Washington’s Joel Kwiatkowski. The Caps took advantage of the break. Lang passed out of the left corner to Sergei Gonchar at the left point. Gonchar, who leads all defensemen with 49 points, slid the puck across to Josef Boumedienne for the slap shot that beat Lightning goalie Nikolai Khabibulin with nine seconds left in the power play. It was Boumedienne’s first goal in 18 games this season.

The tie didn’t last long. As if making up for the penalty on Stillman, the officials sent Jeff Halpern off on a questionable delay of game call at 15:45. St. Louis fired a shot from the left point. Andreychuk poked the rebound away from Kolzig and defenseman Jason Doig, giving Vincent LeCavalier the opportunity to use his long reach to flip the puck into the right side of the net for a 2-1 Tampa Bay lead at 16:37.

Washington’s checking line forged another deadlock just 1:22 into the second period. Center Trent Whitfield fed the puck out of his zone to the streaking Bates Battaglia, who passed across to Brian Willsie. The right wing scored his fourth goal over Khabibulin’s glove.

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