By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 13, 2008
One has been a pillar of stability for the Washington Capitals for more than a decade. The other is expected to carry the franchise for the foreseeable future.
Last night, Olie Kolzig and Alex Ovechkin combined to deliver a critical 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames that not only helped ease the pain of two excruciating defeats over the weekend but also kept alive the Capitals' flickering playoff hopes.
Kolzig made 24 saves to earn his 300th career win, joining an exclusive club with 23 members. Ovechkin, meantime, supplied the offense, scoring goals Nos. 55 and 56, both on the power play, the second coming on a blast from the point with 1 minute 54 seconds left.
Ovechkin's goal sent the announced crowd of 17,560 into a frenzy and extended Washington's unbeaten streak against Calgary to eight games (six wins and two ties). The biggest celebration, though, was saved for Kolzig, who received a standing ovation when his milestone was announced.
"At the end of the season, it'll sink in a little more," said Kolzig, who has been in net for 24 of the Capitals' 33 wins this season. "I was looking to play one game in the NHL when I first got drafted, much less have 300 wins."
Kolzig, who was drafted by the Capitals in 1989 and became a full-time starter during the 1997-98 season, has long been a fan favorite in Washington. But the past few months have easily been the most difficult stretch of the 37-year-old's tenure here. He's endured criticism in the media for his inconsistent play, and his future has been called into question since Cristobal Huet was acquired at the NHL's trade deadline last month.
Both Coach Bruce Boudreau and General Manager George McPhee praised Kolzig.
"I'm really proud to be part of this," Boudreau said. "With the month that he has gone through and the professionalism that he has shown; 300 wins is an awful lot of wins. If you look at his numbers over the last 15 games, they are pretty darn good."
McPhee added: "This wouldn't have worked if Olie wasn't the guy that he is. He's a great teammate and welcomed the other guy. He's played real well and is doing what we wanted to accomplish with two goalies. If we're to make the playoffs, that's what we're going to need."
The play that led to the winning goal began when Flames winger Owen Nolan was whistled for high-sticking Brooks Laich during a faceoff. Moments later, Laich was setting a screen in front of Miikka Kiprusoff while Ovechkin fired a slap shot between the goaltender's pads.
"He raises his level of play when he's in the spotlight," Kolzig said of Ovechkin, referring to the special broadcast of last night's game that focused one camera on the 22-year-old. "I've loved the kid since Day One. He's one kid I'll miss obviously when everything is said and done."
The Capitals' postseason hopes took a big hit over the weekend with gut-wrenching losses to Boston and Pittsburgh. But if they can manage to close out the season with nine or 10 victories, they've still got an outside shot of reaching the playoffs.
Last night's win helped them keep pace with Carolina, which has a seven-point lead in the Southeast Division, and moved them within five points of Philadelphia for the East's eighth and final playoff berth.
Viktor Kozlov opened the scoring only 53 seconds in, redirecting a shot by Nicklas Backstrom past Kiprusoff to put the Capitals ahead.
The Flames pulled even on Jarome Iginla's 42nd goal, scored on a five-on-three power play at 19:15 of the first period. Kristian Huselius put the Flames ahead midway through second period, but Ovechkin tied the score with a wrist shot at 17:55.
Ovechkin's second goal capped a third period in which the Flames mustered two shots on Kolzig.
"There was a lot of life on the bench in the last two periods," Boudreau said. "There was a lot of will and want."
Capitals Note: Defenseman John Erskine played only 5 minutes 12 seconds. He apparently was hurt in a fight with Eric Godard.