- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TAMPA, Fla. — The Washington Capitals won their last three games of the season and four of their last five. Finally, after months of failed starts and experiments, everything seems to have come together just as the season came to an end.

The Caps blitzed the playoff-bound Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 last night, finishing the season 29-41-12, good for 70 points.

“When we had an opportunity to get 70 points, we talked about winning four of our last six and we accomplished it,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “For [the players], it’s a heck of an accomplishment because there’s no monetary gain getting to 70 points. It’s just something they wanted to do as a group and they did it. I’m proud of my players.”

But Washington’s season has come to an end, the second straight season with no playoffs and more rebuilding on the horizon.

“I think we’ve played better lately, obviously,” said team captain Jeff Halpern, who had two goals last night to give him 11 for the season after a rocky start. “There were certain things that we needed to make better or change earlier in the year and it just took time. Our goalies gave us a chance to win all the time and that’s the reason we’re in all these games.”

Brent Johnson was in goal last night and, as Hanlon mentioned, had an easy night of it — he had to face only 43 shots, not a tough outing after facing 49 and 50 in recent outings. Johnson has been outstanding coming down the stretch as he fights for a contract next season.

“Our confidence is really high right now,” Johnson said. “I wish we were heading for the playoffs right now the way we’ve been playing, but this will give the guys something to look forward to.”

Johnson was routinely blown out of the water in his early Washington games but has completely reversed that trend in the past month.

“Getting more starts has made it a lot easier to play,” he said. “I just didn’t have my game at the beginning of the season. It was tough to get into the mode of playing once every three weeks. Now I’m playing a little bit more, I have confidence on my side and things come a little easier.”

Alex Ovechkin had one assist, finishing his rookie campaign with 52 goals, 54 assists and 106 points, wiping out all Washington rookie records in the process and making a serious dent in some career categories.

But Ovechkin wasn’t the story last night. It was Johnson and players who often don’t get into the limelight. Halpern had just four goals at the Olympic break in February but finished with 11 goals and 44 points. Ben Clymer nailed his 16th of the season and even defenseman Steve Eminger, who hasn’t scored a goal since early December, scored one.

“He’s played great down the stretch,” Hanlon said of Johnson. “He’s started to get the opportunity to play and he’s got some confidence and he’s gone on from there.”

Notes — The Caps recalled goalie Maxime Daigneault yesterday from the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL to take Olie Kolzig’s place on the roster. Kolzig was in British Columbia where his father died Monday night. … Right wing Jonas Johansson also was called up from Hershey because center Brian Sutherby’s groin is bothering him again and he was unable to play. Defenseman Jamie Heward also was injured. Washington finishes the season with 169 man-games lost to injury, illness or personal issues. … Johansson, center Brooks Laich and right wing Eric Fehr left immediately after the game to rejoin the Hershey Bears, who are in the American Hockey League playoffs in Norfolk. Daigneault returned to the Stingrays.

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