- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

The fans stood and cheered their longtime hero, chanting his name like so many times before.

The past few weeks haven’t been the easiest of Olie Kolzig’s tenure with the Washington Capitals, and his future beyond the next few weeks might be uncertain, but last night will be one for him and the patrons at Verizon Center to remember.

Kolzig made 24 saves and, with the help of two power-play goals from Alex Ovechkin, including one with 1:54 remaining, collected the 300th win of his career in a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames.

“At the end of the season it’ll sink in a little more,” Kolzig said. “I was looking to play one game in the NHL when I first got drafted, much less have 300 wins.”

The announced crowd of 17,560 was treated to a video tribute for Kolzig shortly after the game. Current and past members of the organization including owner Ted Leonsis, general manager George McPhee, former Caps players Jeff Halpern, Ken Klee and Joe Reekie as well as Kolzig’s good friend Stu Barnes congratulated the goaltender on becoming only the 23rd player in league history to reach the milestone.

“He’s been our rock over all these years,” McPhee said. “You can’t say anything but good things about Olie. He’s been a great teammate, a great guy for coaches and management to work with. … It is the kind of guy you dream of drafting.”

With the win, the Caps kept pace with Carolina seven points back in the Southeast Division race and moved to within five of Philadelphia for the eighth and final playoff spot with 11 games remaining.

It also helped the Caps forget about a pair of painful losses this past weekend.

“I think this is a good jump-start,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “For the past couple years you feel sorry for yourself and you get like, ‘Aw man, we’re unlucky. We’re always unlucky.’ Sometimes you don’t realize that you have to push it through to make your own luck, and I think we did today.”

No one felt worse about Washington’s loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday than Nicklas Backstrom after he put the winning goal in his own net, but he didn’t wait long to help get his team going last night. Viktor Kozlov tipped in a shot from Backstrom 53 seconds into the contest.

Penalty trouble — specifically yielding 5-on-3 opportunities — was a problem again for the Caps and led to Calgary’s first two goals. Matt Bradley went to the box at 17:21 of the opening period for interference and Milan Jurcina joined him 1:11 later.

Six seconds before Bradley could exit and join the Caps’ penalty killers, Flames captain Jarome Iginla blistered a one-timer from the left point for his 42nd goal of the season.

Shaone Morrisonn was called for tripping 1:25 after John Erskine was assessed the same infraction in the second period. The Flames would capitalize at 8:57 with Kristian Huselius scoring his 23rd after a pass through the slot from Iginla. It was technically a 5-on-4 goal because it came exactly two minutes after Erskine’s penalty.

But then the Flames started taking penalties, and eventually Ovechkin made them pay. During Washington’s fourth power play of the second period, Mike Green’s shot was blocked and Flames center Craig Conroy tried to clear the puck. Ovechkin was there to pilfer it from him and sweep a wrist shot over Miikka Kiprusoff’s shoulder and off the bottom half of the crossbar at 17:55.

The game-winner came on a booming slap shot from the top of the offensive zone — the same place Green’s original shot came from on Ovechkin’s first goal.

“We really haven’t in the last month got pucks to the top [of the zone] and started shooting, but it worked tonight,” said Green, who had a pair of assists against his hometown team. “If we can figure it out, we can keep doing it.”

Ovechkin pushed his league-leading total to 56 goals, which ties Jonathan Cheechoo’s 2005-06 campaign for the most since the 2004-05 lockout. He also tied his season high with 11 shots on net and increased his lead over Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in the scoring race to four points with 97.

“He raises his play when he’s in the spotlight,” Kolzig said of Ovechkin. “He signed that big contract and he actually elevated his play, and that’s what you want in a superstar. I’ve loved that kid since Day 1. He’s one kid I’ll miss obviously when everything is said and done.”

Caps report

Last night at Verizon Center

QUOTABLE

“I think it is great that when you score a goal, you do what everybody really wants to do. The guys who are reserved really want to do that — they are doing it inside — but he does it on the outside.”

—Caps coach Bruce Boudreau on Alex Ovechkin’s goal celebrations

PROSPECT UPDATE

A pair of Caps’ blue line properties begin postseason play in the WCHA playoffs this weekend. Joe Finley, Washington’s 2006 first-round pick, has four goals and 11 points this season for North Dakota, the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Andrew Thomas, a fourth-round selection in 2005, captains third-seeded Denver. Thomas has a goal and seven points for the Pioneers and is a team-best plus-12.

BY THE NUMBERS

8 Goals in 10 games before last night for Caps forward Brooks Laich — which matches his career high before this season.

Corey Masisak

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