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Thursday, February 3, 2011; 12:15 AM

The Washington Capitals celebrated the career of Dino Ciccarelli on Tuesday night at Verizon Center. The evening was a Dino-fest, complete with video highlights of his career, audio messages from former teammates, and the tough little winger dropping a ceremonial puck. Ciccarelli was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame this past November.

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He played a little more than three of his 19 NHL seasons in Washington. He scored 112 of his 608 career goals as a Capital after nine seasons in Minnesota. In the first four seasons after he left the Capitals, he scored 107 goals for the Detroit Red Wings. He was a four-time all-star: three times in Minnesota and once with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And yet Verizon Center on Tuesday felt like Gordie Howe Night in Detroit or Bobby Orr Night in Boston. It was sweet and nice - but it was also a stretch. In their 37 seasons, the Capitals can call two Hall of Famers their own: Rod Langway and Mike Gartner, though Langway's only Stanley Cup came in Montreal.

That's why the Capitals are always searching for legacy players and legacy moments: There just aren't a lot of either.

All of which brings us to the 3-2 shootout loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Ciccarelli Night. Like the franchise itself, this group of Caps is searching right now - for its superstar, for a consistent second-line center and for answers. If the playoffs began today, last year's Presidents' Cup champion would be the No. 5 seed in the East and would open against - you guessed it - the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Of course, more than two months and 30 games remain in the regular season, and if the Caps can win at Tampa Bay on Friday night, they will be just three points behind the first-place Lightning in the Southeast Division. Then again, a loss puts them seven points back, and the Lightning will play eight more at home before going to New York for their first post-all-star break road game Feb. 27.

The Capitals came out with great energy Tuesday and caught an early break when the normally excellent Carey Price whiffed on Mathieu Perreault's wrist shot from the left circle just 2 minutes 29 seconds into the game. Then, when Roman Hamrlik took a silly hooking penalty by reaching for Marcus Johansson on a semi-breakaway after Price had stopped the shot, the Caps actually scored a power-play goal.

The Caps' power play hasn't been quite as bad recently as, say, the Wizards on the road, but it has definitely been MIA: nine goals in 88 chances over their past 27 games entering Tuesday. Like a lot of Pepco customers last week, Caps fans have been asking, "When will we get our power back?"

It took 1:55 to answer that question. Mike Green slipped a pretty pass to Mike Knuble on the doorstep, and the Caps had a 2-0 lead 7:49 in thanks to a power-play goal. Dino Ciccarelli Night was off to a festive start.

But as has been the case most of this season, the joy didn't last for very long. Two turnovers in the second period led to odd-man rushes (a two-on-one followed by a one-on-none) that Canadiens captain Brian Gionta cashed in to tie the score at 2.

"We didn't let down," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We just made a couple of mistakes."

Call it what you want. It didn't soothe the crowd, some of whom resorted to boos at the end of the second period. Even among the Caps, there appeared to be confusion as to what had gone wrong after the encouraging start.


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