Capitals' Finale Is a Win for Grieving Kolzig

Alex Ovechkin, Jeff Halpern
Alex Ovechkin, left, ends the season with 106 points after assisting on one of captain Jeff Halpern's two goals. (Chris O'Meara - AP)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TAMPA, April 18 -- A night that figured to be emotional turned out to be even more so for the Washington Capitals.

Goaltender Olie Kolzig was in British Columbia on Tuesday, mourning the sudden passing of his father, while his teammates, knowing changes likely are coming to their close-knit locker room, wrapped up the season with a 4-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum.

Captain Jeff Halpern scored twice, backup goalie Brent Johnson made 42 saves and rookie Alex Ovechkin chipped in with an assist as the Capitals won for the fourth time in their last five games. The Lightning will begin defending its Stanley Cup championship in Ottawa, probably on Friday.

"Everyone wanted to get this win for Olie," said Johnson, who faced 40 or more shots for the sixth time in his past seven starts. "He's been the backbone of the team for years. I couldn't believe it when he called me this morning. It's heartbreaking."

Ovechkin completed his extraordinary first year with 52 goals and 106 points, tying him for third on the Capitals' all-time list for goals and second in points. The 20-year-old left wing also held off Pittsburgh phenom Sidney Crosby, who finished with 39 goals and 102 points. The next NHL competition between Ovechkin and Crosby will be for the Calder Trophy, given to the top rookie.

"It was an unbelievable season," Ovechkin said. "It's been the best season of my life. I think it will be the best summer of my life, too."

Despite the Capitals' impressive finish, they wound up second-to-last in the Eastern Conference and 27th overall with a record of 29-41-12. The team's goal in recent weeks was to reach 70 points, which it accomplished by taking two from the Lightning.

"We've been complimented about our players everywhere we've gone," Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said. "It was fitting tonight that a referee came to us, said it was a testament to our team the way we played with nothing really on the line."

Wednesday's breakdown day at Piney Orchard Ice Arena also figures to be emotional for some players. A few probably played their last game in a Capitals uniform. Three in particular -- Johnson, Halpern and defenseman Ivan Majesky, all unrestricted free agents -- are not believed to be in serious discussions to return. Johnson's play recently, however, has forced management to at least consider bringing him back. Halpern likely will test the market and Majesky isn't likely to be brought back.

"I don't want to put a number" on the guys who won't be coming back, Hanlon said before the game "We have to be very sensitive to chemistry and the feeling and the mood we have in the room. By bringing in [too many] new people, it could totally shift it back the other way."

Kolzig learned of his father's death after earning his 20th victory in the Capitals' 6-4 victory over Atlanta on Monday night. Axel Kolzig died after an apparent heart attack at his home in British Columbia, team officials said. He was 64.

"We're all hurting for the Kolzigs today," General Manager George McPhee said. Halpern added: "We're thinking about him. It's something you never want to go through."

Kolzig's teammates dedicated the win to him and his family.

Halpern scored on the power play at the 9-minute 52-minute mark of the first period and again 12 seconds into the second to put the Capitals ahead 2-0. Tampa Bay's Ruslan Fedotenko's power-play tally at 4:03 of the middle frame trimmed the Lightning's deficit to 2-1. But Ben Clymer's redirection of a Nolan Yonkman slap shot moments later restored Washington's two-goal edge.

Steve Eminger's first goal since Dec. 3 provided the final margin.

Capitals Notes: Defenseman Jamie Heward missed his third consecutive game with an undisclosed upper body injury. Center Brian Sutherby, meantime, was scratched because of an undisclosed lower body injury. Forward Jonas Johansson was recalled from Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League as an emergency replacement for Sutherby. . . .

After beating Atlanta on Monday, both Hanlon and McPhee received phone calls from their Tampa Bay counterparts, John Tortorella and Jay Feaster, respectively, thanking them for defeating the Thrashers. The Capitals' victory clinched a playoff berth for the Lightning.

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