Stars 6, Capitals 1

Olaf Kolzig glanced at the puck resting over the goal line, looked up at the scoreboard, which showed no time remaining in the second period, and whacked his stick violently off the crossbar.

Dallas Stars winger Bill Guerin had scored the most crushing of goals, his second of the decisive second period, to give his team a three-goal lead at MCI Center, en route to a 6-1 victory. Washington's tribulations were many last night. The problems started early and continued late, with untimely breakdowns the root of their downfall.

"The last few seconds [of the second period] we got scrambling around and obviously as a goalie you'd like to have that one back," Kolzig said. "But this was a stinker for us. . . . We handed the game to them. It was an all-around bad game."

The Stars, playing their third game in four nights against a well-rested opponent, scored a little more than two minutes into the game, an immediate indication that the Capitals' recent run of superb play was waning. Their three-game winning streak, tying a season high, was snapped in an abrupt manner, leaving Coach Bruce Cassidy baffled by their fluctuations in play.

"I don't have an answer for that," Cassidy said. "Obviously, we don't handle success very well and other days I don't know that we handle adversity very well. . . . As a coach it's my job to figure it out."

Scott Young netted the opening goal, his first goal in 18 games with Dallas, and the Stars quickly scored again. Kolzig withstood a bevy of shots but was trying to locate a rebound when Pierre Turgeon sent the puck back to the net and Washington's defense fell limp in the crease.

"They've got so many big guys up front," Capitals winger Jaromir Jagr said. "Our three-on-three coverage down low, it looked like we could not handle them. They were too big for us, I guess."

It would be difficult enough for the offensively challenged Capitals to get back in the game -- they are averaging barely two goals per game -- and nearly impossible given their woeful stretch on the power play (7 for 58). Despite devoting ample practice time to the subject and numerous meetings between players and coaches, there is little semblance of continuity. Cassidy also preached the importance of the first period for this contest against Dallas, a team that has the league's best first-period scoring margin, yet it did not translate to the ice.

"Obviously we didn't drive the message home enough to the guys," Cassidy said. "Even though it was mentioned over and over."

Kip Miller scored Washington's lone goal early in the second period to make it 2-1, and the Capitals began to mount pressure around Dallas's net, but failed to tie the game. Then Guerin beat Kolzig's glove with a long slapshot, and everything fell apart. For the first time this season Kolzig was not stellar, but his teammates failed to aid his cause.

"Early in the year when we were struggling he was the difference," Cassidy said, explaining his decision to keep Kolzig in the game. "And I thought, let's find out if the guys will do the same for him. . . . Didn't happen. That's very discouraging. He's your goaltender, one of your biggest leaders, and we didn't respond for him."

Guerin's second goal was the backbreaker. Ulf Dahlen, a master along the boards who departed Washington as a free agent this summer, created it all, holding off the defense with five seconds left in the second period and pushing the puck ahead to Derian Hatcher, who nudged it to Guerin as he charged from behind the net.

Guerin, another summer signing, released his shot with a half-second on the clock and it caromed off Kolzig's leg and into the net. Video replay upheld the validity of the goal, and the insurmountable 4-1 deficit.

Pierre Turgeon, behind net, helps Dallas end the Capitals' three-game winning streak. "It was an all-around bad game," goaltender Olaf Kolzig said.Ken Klee, left, catches, upends Stars' Niko Kapanen. But Caps fell behind early, never challenged.