- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Two Southeast Division teams going nowhere started goalies last night at MCI Center who had been virtually nowhere just nine days ago.

Carolina’s Arturs Irbe, who spent all season in the East Coast Hockey League, got the better of Washington’s Sebastien Charpentier, who hadn’t started since Oct.14 and was on the injured list for most of the next four months.

Carolina’s 2-1 victory not only was the fourth-place Hurricanes’ first in the six-game season series with the cellar-dwelling Caps, but it was the first in the NHL in 13 months for Irbe, mired in a funk since he led Carolina’s surprising march to the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals.

Irbe, recalled from Johnstown (Pa.) on Feb.17, made 18 saves while filling in for Kevin Weekes, 19-18-9 against the rest of the NHL but 0-4-1 against the Caps. Charpentier, activated last Thursday, started because No.1 goalie Olie Kolzig was given a breather following Tuesday’s birth of his third child.

Charpentier, whose career was in jeopardy before arthroscopic surgery on Jan.5 healed a chronic hip ailment, made 31 saves but got beat by Erik Cole late in the first period and by Jeff O’Neill midway through the second, the latter with Washington down two skaters.

“I was surprisingly calm before the game,” Charpentier said. “Coming back this year is a real plus for me. It was fun. Being busy [he faced 24 shots in the first two periods] was pretty good, except for the 5-on-3s.”

Caps coach Glen Hanlon said he couldn’t have asked for more from Charpentier.

“Charpy deserved better,” Hanlon said. “This is a great night for him. I know how much pain he has endured. I know what the game means to him.”

Robert Lang’s 29th goal ended Irbe’s shutout attempt with 37 seconds left in the second period. The Caps were on the power play because of a hooking penalty against Allan Rourke’s hooking penalty when Sergei Gonchar took a shot from the point. Jeff Halpern followed with a diving shot near the right post. Anson Carter kept the rebound alive and Lang swept in from the left side to lift the puck past Irbe to extend his scoring streak to 13 games.

Lang was open momentarily twice in the third period, but Carolina defenseman Glen Wesley hampered his shot the first time and the NHL’s top scorer couldn’t quite get to a puck sliding across the crease the second time. Washington gained a seventh power play — two fewer than Carolina — with 6:25 remaining but produced only two shots.

“This was embarrassing,” Halpern said after the Caps ended a five-game homestand with a 1-2-2 record following their second straight loss. “We’re not coming out with any energy in our own building. We’re not making it hard for teams to come in here. Charpy played unbelievable and gave us a chance to win, but we hung him out to dry on a couple of 5-on-3s.”

After recording only two shots in the third period of Monday’s 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay, Washington took just three in the first period last night. O’Neill fired a shot off the right post on a late 4-on-4 breakaway, but at 18:52, Cole got free of Josef Boumedienne in front and knocked in a rebound of Rod Brind’Amour’s shot for a 1-0 Carolina lead.

O’Neill hit the crossbar on a power play set up by Brendan Witt’s slashing penalty at 7:29 of the second period. But after Boumedienne gave Carolina a 5-on-3 by closing his hand on the puck at 8:26, O’Neill needed just 37 seconds to slap a one-timer inside the near post. Washington survived a subsequent 5-on-3 that lasted 51 seconds despite Carolina’s shot margin mushrooming to 23-5.

“The first 40 minutes, we’re at home and we have five shots — that’s not right,” said Hanlon. “Seven shots in 60 minutes, that’s not what we’re trying to establish.”

Notes — Rumors continue to swirl about Gonchar being dealt before the March9 trade deadline to Toronto, New Jersey, Dallas or Boston. Gonchar’s 49 points lead all NHL defensemen … With Rick Berry suspended for spearing the Lightning’s Martin Cibak on Monday, veteran left wing Kip Miller was in the Washington lineup for the first time in seven games.

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