LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals were getting a wonderful goaltending performance from rookie Olie Kolzig and were well on their way to a 7-2 victory over the Pittsburgh $H Penguins last night that would clinch their sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference, when Peter Bondra looked up to see his NHL goal-scoring lead threatened.
But it wasn't threatened long.
With the Capitals leading 4-2 in the third period and Pittsburgh's Jarimir Jagr having scored the two to get Pittsburgh back in the game and also force a goal-scoring tie with Bondra at 32 apiece, Bondra went to work.
He scored short-handed -- for an NHL-leading sixth time -- to retake the goals lead and give the Caps a 4-2 advantage. And then, after defenseman Sergei Gonchar made it 5-2, Bondra again blasted the puck past a dazed Ken Wregget into the Penguins' goal.
"It was fun," Bondra said. "Jagr is good player and I hope he is going to win the point scoring title [tonight] with some assists. It would be nice for him. But hopefully, he's not going to pass me with the goals.
"It was good for us to send a little message to Pittsburgh tonight and to go into the playoffs on a high. It was nice to see so many of our guys get goals. If someone else gets hot, it will be an easier game for us."
Bondra must wait to see what Jagr does tonight to find out if he will become the first player in Washington history to win the NHL goal-scoring title. And Washington must wait until after tonight's games between Pittsburgh and Florida and Quebec and Hartford to see who its first-round playoff opponent will be.
If Pittsburgh wins and Quebec loses, the Capitals will play the Nordiques on Saturday. If Quebec wins or ties, the Capitals will be heading to Pittsburgh on Sunday for a repeat of last year's first-round playoff confrontation.
"It's a good sendoff into the playoffs," said Capitals coach Jim Schoenfeld. "But I don't think it gives us an edge in the first round if we have to play the Penguins. I think that will be a battle all the way through."
It has been a battle much of the season for Kolzig, who started the season as Washington's No. 1 goalie, only to have his solid performances wasted. Then along came another rookie named Jim Carey and Kolzig found a regular seat on the bench as backup.
But last night, he started for the second time since Carey was called up from the Portland Pirates on March 2, and for only the second time in 14 games this season he came away with a victory.
Kolzig made 36 saves last night.
"Olie came up big and kept us in it in the first period," said Caps defenseman Jim Johnson. "The outcome of this game wasn't so much how good we played, but how well he played in goal.
"He stood on his head for us in the first period and then played a strong third. That poor kid. He's had to sit out and it's been tough because he's a good goalie, too. Finally, we got him some goals."
The Capitals were also playing without two of their top centers, Joe Juneau and Michal Pivonka, but held true to form, getting goals from unexpected places. Rookie Ken Klee collected two, and Craig Berube, Sergei Gonchar and Steve Konowalchuk one each.
The Caps took a 3-0 lead in the second period on goals by Klee, Berube and Konowalchuk before the Penguins responded.
After watching their goalie, Wregget, get beaten twice within 90 seconds by Klee and Berube and then seeing Konowalchuk rush in like a speeding Bondra to put the Caps up by three with 10:59 still to play, Pittsburgh fired back.
Jagr scored two goals, the first off an assist from Ron Francis with 9:04 to play and then, with 3:40 left, he put away a Francis rebound.