The Washington Capitals rallied around goaltender Olaf Kolzig on Wednesday, buckling down to help him earn a shutout--a reward for all the times he has made them look good. Tonight, it was back to their old roles. Kolzig had an excellent game and was particularly stellar in the third period, enabling the Capitals to win their first game in overtime this season.
Adam Oates, who had a goal and two assists, sent a puck to the slot 31 seconds into overtime and Calle Johansson blasted it high, giving the Capitals a 3-2 victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. The pass might have been intended for Steve Konowalchuk, but no one cared afterward.
"I saw [Konowalchuk] might miss it so I was ready for it when it came," Johansson said. "I just shot it; I could barely see the net."
Kolzig leaped, wild in celebration. The Capitals (12-13-5; 5-9-1 on the road) won consecutive road games for the first time this season in an important game against a conference opponent. Kolzig won consecutive starts for just the second time this season. He had every reason to go wild.
The Rangers were the aggressors in the third period. Kolzig was up to the challenge. Alexandre Daigle waltzed through the slot, but Kolzig denied his wrist shot. Yogi Svejkovsky gave the puck away at Washington's blue line and Kolzig had to stop Mike York's partial breakaway. Daigle's slap shot was corralled. Petr Nedved tiptoed in and met the same fate; Kolzig stuffed him with his pads. Sylvain Lefebvre was all alone with a free shot at the net and Kolzig slid left for the save.
"When Olie sees us playing like we did Wednesday, it really makes him happy, and we want to keep the big guy happy," winger Chris Simon said. "And he really saved [us] tonight. Obviously, he was the difference tonight. He gave us a chance to win the game."
Nedved had two chances at a rebound and was stopped both times; Washington stormed back at the other end and Ulf Dahlen darted to net. Tim Taylor knocked the puck in the net but the goal was waved off. Referee Bill McCreary already had blown his whistle. Adam Graves tried a re-direction, only to add to Kolzig's save total. He stopped 31 shots tonight, including 16 saves in the third period.
"That was definitely Olie's best game this year," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. "That was certainly Olie's best period. We made some sloppy plays in our end."
Kolzig was betrayed by his teammates in October, when they struggled defensively, and Kolzig has been paying for it since in the form of some ugly statistics. Now the numbers are beginning to do justice to the goalie. He went 2-5-2 with a 3.52 goals-against average in October, yielding four or more goals five times. Since then he is 7-7-3, yielding slightly more than two goals per game. He has held teams under three goals in 11 of those 17 games.
Oates was also a victim of October, held to three assists. But he has 19 points in the last 17 games and is by far the Capitals' most prolific scorer. Tonight he was all over the place, eluding his shadow, Taylor, a former Capital and top defensive center.
Wilson made a subtle move at the start of the second period--dropping the struggling Svejkovsky to the fourth line and promoting Simon. It worked instantly. Simon and Dahlen were great along the board, and Oates fed Simon from behind the goal. Simon's wrist shot sneaked under the crossbar 53 seconds into the second period for his first goal since Nov. 5 (11 games).
But Andrei Nikolishin and Ken Klee allowed Graves to camp out in the crease and he tied the game 54 seconds later. Kolzig had no chance. Graves struck again with about six minutes left in the period, this time on the power play (the Rangers entered with an NHL-low 11 power-play goals).
Mathieu Schneider fired from the slot on the man-advantage and the puck hit Graves's skate and bounced in. The Capitals complained that Graves had interfered with Kolzig and kicked the puck in, but the goal stood. The Capitals, another team with power-play woes, enjoyed overlapping penalties at the end of the period and cashed in on the second chance. They were strong along the boards, Dahlen made a great feed from the corner and Oates finished the play with 3 minutes 30 seconds left in the period.
At that point everything was even; in the end nothing was. The Rangers stole an overtime game at MCI Center last month; Kolzig allowed the Capitals to do something similar tonight. It felt very good.
"We owed them one," Kolzig said. "We feel a little vindicated now doing it back to them in their building."
Capitals Notes: Center Jan Bulis missed tonight's game with a groin injury but could play Saturday in New Jersey. . . . Alexandre Volchkov (right wing), Martin Brochu (goalie) and Miika Elomo (left wing) of the Capitals' minor league affiliate in Portland were named to the AHL all-star team. Volchkov and Brochu were named starters.