- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 29, 2004

NEW YORK — It was supposed to be Jaromir Jagr’s night, but his former Washington Capitals teammates spoiled the reunion.

Jeff Halpern and Trent Whitfield, together not the offensive force the perennial All-Star right wing is, scored goals and Olie Kolzig stopped all but one of New York’s 33 shots as the Caps defeated the Rangers 2-1 last night at Madison Square Garden.

Jagr, traded from the last-place Caps to the wealthy Rangers on Friday in a financially driven move, wasn’t much of a factor until the third period. He played 13:51 during the first two periods, putting a lone shot on net, and was on the ice for Whitfield’s goal. But Jagr was on the ice when Martin Rucinsky knocked the rebound of Petr Nedved’s shot out of the air and past Kolzig to cut the margin to 2-1.

Enlivened Rangers stormed the Washington end on the next few shifts, gaining a power play on Joel Kwiatkowski’s boarding call at 6:52. Jagr put the Caps two men down when he forced Rick Berry to hold him 65 seconds later, but Kolzig came up big twice on Jagr’s shots from the lower right circle before he fired a third attempt high.

New York had 12 shots in the first 10:30 of the period, one fewer than in the first 40 minutes. Jason Doig interfered with Nedved at 13:34, leaving the Caps shorthanded for the third time in the period, but their penalty-killers stayed perfect.

Kolzig, who won the 2000 Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goalie, said Jagr’s departure is helping restore the “undermanned” Caps to their old, blue-collar identity.

“Those first two periods were the best we’ve played defensively in a long time,” Kolzig said. “They came at us in the third period, but we hung in there and got the job done.”

Coach Glen Hanlon agreed and cited Kolzig’s ability in the clutch.

“We’re trying to create an identity,” Hanlon said. “This is Caps hockey with an edge. And there’s nobody better with the game on the line than Olie.”

Jagr praised the defensive effort of his former teammates, but like the rest of the Rangers was more concerned about linemate Eric Lindros, who suffered the eighth concussion of his 11-year career after a hit from Doig and a subsequent fight with the Caps defenseman at 10:53 of the second period with the frustrated Rangers trailing 2-0.

“Eric dropped the gloves, and I said, ‘I’ll fight you, but my hit was legal. You had your head down. You have to keep your head up,’” Doig said. “I don’t think he got hurt then because he stayed in the game, and I know I didn’t hurt him during the fight. I hope he’s back real soon. He’s a great player and this game needs him.”

Rangers coach Glen Sather didn’t blame Doig but is worried about losing his top center, whose career has been in jeopardy because of the concussions.

The victory snapped a three-game losing streak for the Caps (15-29-5-2) and a six-game winless streak dating to Dec.17.

Midway through the first period, the puck bounced to the right offensive circle to Doig, who uncharacteristically took it behind the net. Doig quickly threw the puck out front where Halpern, covered by stickless defenseman Boris Mironov, redirected it past goalie Jussi Markkanen at 9:29. The goal was Halpern’s ninth and seventh in 23 games since Hanlon replaced Bruce Cassidy as coach.

Kolzig thwarted ex-Cap Chris Simon at 17:40, and Mark Messier blasted a good chance wide in the final minute before the Rangers headed to the dressing room to boos from the typically impatient New York fans.

After those fans cheered New York’s Jed Ortmeyer for kicking the puck out of his zone after breaking his stick, Matt Pettinger chipped the puck back the other way. Rangers defenseman Joel Bouchard fumbled it and Whitfield made him pay, grabbing the turnover and firing his third goal in seven games through Markkanen’s legs at 4:08 of the second period.

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