WASHINGTON - When a team is "desperate' as the Washington Capitals are, it is the "big men' who are expected to step up.
That's exactly what happened at MCI Center last night as Ulf Dahlen and Peter Bondra scored, and Jaromir Jagr, Adam Oates and goalie Olie Kolzig provided the assists as the Capitals started what they hope will be their playoff push with a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild.
Not only are those five the big guns, but they are also the straight talkers. Coming into last night's game, they made it clear that the Capitals have to win their four scheduled games before the Olym pic break to have a reasonable shot at making the playoffs.
They also said everyone on the team has to realize jobs are on the line and that embarrassment looms if they don't make an honest and strong effort every night.
So, with 5:09 left in the opening period, Kolzig got things off on the right foot for the Caps with an outlet pass to Jagr. The big right wing carried the puck into the Wild's zone and handed off to Dahlen.
If anyone wanted a photo to demonstrate the word deter mined, they should have been focused on the big Swede.
Dahlen legged the puck through traffic and around the back of the net. He held his inside position as he swung around the far side of the goal, steadied himself and then unloaded the puck with such a swift, sudden swing that it made Wild goalie Dwayne Roloson spin like a top before tumbling over on his back.
The victory, before 16,224, improved the Capitals" record to 21-26-8-1 and brought them to five games below .500.
Still, Washington's offensive production was strikingly low and hard to come by, given Minnesota is the 23rd-worst defensive team in the NHL. But the Caps did manage to hold on for the win.
A second-period power play gave Oates the chance to make a pass to Dahlen for a relay to Bondra for the Caps" second goal. It was only Bondra's third goal in his last 17 games, but it was also his second in three games and his league-leading 14th on the power play.
The Caps looked in control at that point with a 2-0 lead. But the Wild (17-25-9-5) emerged in a fighting mood in the third period. The fiery play eventually wound up putting the Caps on the power play, but it also wound up putting the Wild on the scoreboard as Richard Park scored short-handed to ruin Kolzig's bid for his fifth shutout of the season.
With just 26 games remaining - a total of 52 available points - speculation is that the Caps probably will need at least 37 of them to have any hope of making the postseason.
Twenty-three of those games are tucked into a 47-day period following the Olympic break that ends Feb. 25.
The Caps will now travel south for back-to-back games in Nashville and Tampa Bay tomorrow night and Saturday, before return ing home for another meeting with the Lightning Feb. 11.
The second period last night began with the Caps dominating play and Jagr just missing a goal by the width of the goal post after a wonderfully quick relay from Sergei Gonchar to Oates to Frantisek Ku cera to Jagr at 18:34.
A penalty for too many men on the ice 23 seconds later momentarily killed Washington's momentum.
Minnesota 0 0 1 - 1
Washington 1 1 0 - 2