- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If there was ever a perfect time for the lowly Washington Capitals to beat the Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils on the road, this was it.

The Caps were better rested while the Devils were playing without defensive superstars Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens. But Washington couldn’t quite close the deal yesterday, falling 2-1 on a goal by Patrik Elias 2:43 into overtime.

The loss was the Caps’ third in overtime in four visits to New Jersey the last two seasons. Their other game at Continental Airlines Arena was a 3-0 defeat Dec.4 after which coach Bruce Cassidy questioned the commitment of some of his players. He was fired six days later and replaced by the more upbeat Glen Hanlon, who was pleased with yesterday’s effort although his team’s record when tied or trailing after two periods sank to 1-26-5-2.

“You want to win, but I couldn’t ask for any more from our group,” said Hanlon, whose Caps (13-26-5-2) earned a point in four straight games for the first time since April1.

The slumping Devils, who had won two of their previous nine games, couldn’t have asked for more from backup goalie Corey Schwab, who stopped all but one of the Caps’ 19 shots in his third game this season.

The shot that Schwab couldn’t handle came 7:30 into the game. Rick Berry threw the puck toward the net. Robert Lang grabbed it out of traffic and fired from the slot on Schwab, who left the rebound for Jaromir Jagr to easily flip into the open right side of the net. Jagr’s 16th goal was his second in two games and third in four.

“We had our chances,” Jagr said. “We had the puck in their zone a lot, but we only got one goal. We got a point, but that’s not enough.”

Bates Battaglia had the best chance to give the Caps a 2-0 lead when he stormed in alone less than five minutes after Jagr’s goal, but Schwab stoned him.

Berry was called for hooking John Madden with 36 seconds left in the period. The power play carried over, and 46 seconds into the second period, Elias got behind Brendan Witt for Scott Niedermayer’s pass past Jason Doig and flipped the puck beyond Olie Kolzig’s glove.

Kip Miller hit the outside of the net on a wonderful opportunity at 9:30 and then at 17:23, Schwab and Niedermayer both roughed Jeff Halpern as the Caps center tried to extricate himself from the New Jersey net. But minus flu-ridden sniper Peter Bondra and injured big body Dainius Zubrus, Washington managed only two shots during the 5-on-3.

“We should score 5-on-3, but don’t forget we’re missing two key players,” Jagr said.

Although Washington’s power play, once the NHL’s second best, didn’t convert any of its four chances to fall to 3-for-29 in the last seven games, its once forlorn penalty-killing thwarted four of five shorthanded situations to improve to 29 of 33 during that stretch.

“Things have sort of flip-flopped,” Hanlon said. “Our penalty kill did a good job again, but we have some work to do on our power play. They always say if you don’t score 5-on-3, you’re not going to win, because you know the other team is going to have opportunities.”

The best opportunity of the scoreless third period came when Washington’s Sergei Gonchar hit the left post during a power play at 8:21. But Elias was more accurate with 2:17 left in overtime. He raced out of the New Jersey zone and into Washington’s before dropping the puck off to Scott Gomez, who quickly passed to Brian Rafalski for a shot whose rebound left Elias in perfect position to beat both the diving Witt and Kolzig. Elias’ fourth overtime goal this year tied an NHL record held by Niedermayer and Toronto’s Mats Sundin.

“It was a perfect play,” Witt said. “The puck bounced right to him. I don’t think we could have defended it any better. We played a really good road game against a good Devils team. We shouldn’t be hanging our heads at all.”

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