Washington Capitals Coach Ron Wilson jokingly refers to his three hottest forwards as the Euro Line, a nod to their origins. A reserved 32-year-old Swede (Ulf Dahlen) might not seem a natural fit with a 21-year-old Czech (Jan Bulis) and 24-year-old Slovak (Richard Zednik) whose idea of fun is cruising around in a rented Ferrari, but he's been the perfect complement on the ice.
They have terrorized opponents in three games together, including tonight's 3-1 victory over division-leading Florida at National Car Rental Center. The Capitals (20-17-7) stretched their winning streak to six games and snapped Florida's five-game streak. Zednik scored twice, Bulis assisted on both goals and Dahlen was dominant on the puck, picking up one assist before leaving after two periods with a cut on his wrist, a minor injury.
"We were able to get some breaks when we started playing together, and we got our confidence going," Dahlen said. "We've been able to put the puck in the net the last couple of games but the key is we have four lines playing solid defensive hockey. Everyone is contributing."
The line has seemed unstoppable at times. Zednik was in a 15-game funk before they formed and has five goals in three games since. Bulis also was struggling, but has seven assists in three games (he had 10 in his first 35 games). Dahlen is looking like one of the free agent finds of the summer, with 13 points in his last 15 games. The line has combined for seven goals and 17 points in the last three games.
The Capitals have won four straight on the road for the first time since November 1997, have one loss in 11 games, going 8-1-2 with just 18 goals allowed and are 19-10-2 against conference opponents. They are the hottest team in the NHL.
Washington used a total team effort to defeat a loaded Panthers team at home, where they have the NHL's best record. Wilson got his checking line -- James Black, rookie Jeff Halpern, Joe Sacco -- on the ice whenever the Panthers' potent top line was out there, led by Pavel Bure, and they shut down one of the most explosive talents in the world. "Tonight we used all our defensemen against Bure," defenseman Brendan Witt said. "We were aware of him all night."
The Capitals quickly established a high level of play and held Florida in check, save for an early goal. Goaltender Olaf Kolzig (29 saves), stellar in his 12th straight start, yielded a big rebound on Viktor Kozlov's shot and Ray Whitney found the far corner about six minutes into the game. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar (nine goals and 19 points in last 19 games; no goals and five points in his first 20) triggered the tying goal, making a great play along the boards to find Sacco up ice. Sacco hit James Black one step behind the defense and his vicious slap shot beat Vernon about 10 minutes in.
The Euro Line took over from there. Vernon couldn't handle Gonchar's blast on the power play and Zednik was in perfect position to sweep in the rebound about six minutes into the second period. Less than three minutes later, Zednik grabbed a loose puck off a faceoff and beat Vernon cleanly for his 12th goal of the season, making it 3-1.
"They were outstanding," Wilson said. "That's good for Bulis and Zednik that they don't have to play with [Steve Konowalchuk] and somebody else can step in there and get the job done. . . . Dahlen wasn't very good the first month of the season, in fact he was awful, and he's playing well and there seems to be a chemistry. I like the way things are sorting out."
The Capitals played strong defensively and Kolzig stood up to each rush. He made a spectacular diving save to rob Bure on the power play and made three great stops on a man advantage late in the second period, preserving the margin. Washington killed off five power plays, continuing their dominance in that department, riding the goal scoring of the Euro Line and the sweat of all 20 players to another in a string of impressive victories.
"It was an excellent game," Wilson said, "a great team effort right through our lineup, starting with the goalie on out. Everybody is committed right now to the team and not letting each other down."
Capitals Note: Forward Terry Yake, claimed of waivers from St. Louis, played well in his Capitals debut.