Capitals 3, Senators 2

Any team to prosper deep into the playoffs can recall nights when obscure players rose to unexpected heights, taking their teammates along with them. The Washington Capitals harbor thoughts of such a postseason run this spring, and suddenly their least heralded players are leading the way.

Tonight, the fourth line struck twice within 13 minutes after going 25 games without scoring a goal, and the Capitals toppled the Ottawa Senators, 3-2, at Corel Centre. Trent Whitfield, who was recalled from the minors on Thursday to stabilize that line, scored the game-winning goal in his first game back in the NHL; defenseman Josef Boumedienne did exactly the same thing Tuesday night in Montreal.

"When you get two goals out of your fourth line that's really advantageous for us," said Coach Bruce Cassidy, who won in his home town for the first time. "We haven't had a lot of that this year. Especially against the best team in the league, you have to find ways to win, and that line got it done for us. Let's face it, they were the difference."

Those unexpected heroes raised Washington to 3-2 on this grueling six-game trek through Canada, which concludes Saturday in Toronto. The Capitals (37-28-8-5) are a season-best nine games over .500 and back within two points of Tampa for the Southeast Division lead. Washington lost two previous meetings with Ottawa by a combined score of 11-4, but was a different team tonight. It killed penalties, remained disciplined and scored first.

Dainius Zubrus, having a brilliant month, continued his excellent play by creating the opening goal. Zubrus -- 10 points in the last seven games -- carried the puck nearly the length of the ice, beat a Senator in the neutral zone, drew three more to him and passed to Peter Bondra, who scored about two minutes in.

"We had a similar play a couple of weeks ago and Peter was going to the net and I didn't see him," Zubrus said. "It was kind of a flashback."

Ottawa responded about five minutes later. Martin Havlat, who has dominated the Capitals this season, spun away from defenseman Brendan Witt in the corner and plunked a perfect shot off the crossbar and in.

Goalie Olaf Kolzig (30 saves) stopped the other 12 shots he faced in the period, many in rather dramatic fashion. He lunged through the crease to corral a shot with his stick, fell back to prevent a rebound from inching over the goal line and stymied Magnus Arvedson on a breakaway.

Washington went ahead 2-1 early in the second period when the revamped fourth line of Whitfield, Brian Sutherby and Sergei Berezin wove two passes together. Whitfield led Sutherby down the wing and the rookie swung the puck back to Berezin in the slot, where he netted his fifth goal in seven games with Washington. Whitfield scored his first point since Nov. 10, 2001, and Sutherby snapped a 19-game scoring slump.

Shockingly, the fourth line was not finished scoring. They clicked again with 3 minutes 16 seconds left in the second period. Sutherby, who notched his first multi-point game in his 68th NHL contest, found Bondra and Bondra faked a shot before hitting Whitfield cutting to the net. Whitfield redirected the puck for his first goal since March 11, 2001 (48 games) and he also had his first multi-point game (96 games).

"Actually, I thought [Bondra] was going to shoot it," Whitfield said. "I was just going to the net for a rebound."

Another flirtation with late-period disaster snuffed out the Capitals' celebration. Bondra cranked a shot off the post in the final minute of the period on a three-on-one rush and Havlat (eight points in three games against Washington) had a breakaway in the other direction, slipping a shot under Kolzig with 35 seconds remaining in the period to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Senators, who lead the league in points with 105, did everything but tie the game in the third period. Pucks slid beyond both posts, Ottawa pummeled the net with bodies and Kolzig withstood the barrage.

"We've seen that before," Cassidy said. "He's a great goaltender and he rises to those occasions."

Calle Johansson leans on Ottawa's Todd White for a moment while goalie Olaf Kolzig takes a breather.