Monday, January 30, 2006

There seems to be no way to predict which Washington Capitals team will show up on a given day.

In Pittsburgh against an inferior team on Wednesday, the Caps were routed. The next night against mediocre Boston, the Caps were also so-so and lost.

Yesterday, the Caps played host to the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that had won five of its last six, including the last two by shutout.

The Caps won, of course. Olie Kolzig kept his team in the game until Washington was able to muster some offense in a 2-1 victory. It was the Caps’ third win in five tries against Tampa Bay this season, which makes losing to the Penguins seem unfathomable.

“In Pittsburgh, even though we didn’t play very well, it was close going into the third, and I thought we played pretty well in Boston, not well enough to get a win,” said captain Jeff Halpern, who had one of Washington’s goals. “We played well today, although I don’t think that was our best effort, which is pretty good, being able to get a win against a team like that when you don’t have your best game.”

Vincent Lecavalier put Tampa Bay up 9:24 into the second on the Lightning’s 21st shot (the Caps had seven at the time), and Halpern tied it at 16:20. Dainius Zubrus won it with less than three minutes left in the third period on a tic-tac-toe play, Alex Ovechkin-to-Chris Clark-to-Zubrus.

Kolzig was the only thing preventing the Lightning from opening a significant lead. After being victimized so badly in Pittsburgh in his last outing, Kolzig knew he would have to record a shutout, or something close to it, for the Caps to have a chance.

“We took advantage of the third period with them playing [Saturday], and we got better as the game went on,” the veteran goaltender said. “They came out pretty hard on us. They had a lot of confidence from beating Philly [6-0]. We were able to survive the first period. The second half of the game, I thought we started getting the better chances.”

Actually, Washington’s confidence rose significantly after killing off 40 seconds of a two-man disadvantage, then 80 seconds of a regular short-handed situation early in the second period. The Lightning had only one shot while up two men and one more later on.

The game appeared headed for overtime (as three previous games with Tampa Bay had) until Ovechkin entered the Tampa Bay zone with less than three minutes left. He was tied up by two defenders, fought free and spotted Clark “ghosting” near the far boards. His pass was perfect, and Clark immediately fed Zubrus coming down the slot for the game-winner at 17:40.

Notes — Because of the State of the Union tomorrow night, the Caps’ game against the Islanders will not be shown on NewsChannel 8 as scheduled. Viewers should contact their local cable system to determine where the game can be seen. …

Defenseman Steve Eminger, who sprained an ankle Jan. 13 in Anaheim when he caught a skate in a rut, is the only player left on the Caps’ medical scratch list. He attempted to practice Saturday but didn’t last long. The only healthy scratch was defenseman Nolan Yonkman. …

Washington recalled left wing-center Colin Forbes from Hershey for yesterday’s game to fill out the forward lines. Having four full lines rather than dressing seven defensemen gives coach Glen Hanlon more options. … Washington practices at 11:15 a.m. today at Piney Orchard before leaving for Long Island.

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