WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals turned into philosophers last night after letting a point escape in a game in which they outplayed the Phoenix Coyotes from start to finish - or almost to the finish.
The Caps took a second-period lead on a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Sergei Gonchar and held it until about seven minutes into the third period, before Ladislav Nagy tied the game and Tony Amonte, who was playing in his 900th career game, won it 1:20 into overtime, beating Caps goalie Olie Kolzig (12 saves).
"During the season you're going to get 50 percent of those," said Jaromir Jagr, who assisted on Gonchar's goal. "We dominated, but sometimes it doesn't matter how you play. You look at our last game with New Jersey, they outplayed us, but we came away with one point. That's how the season goes."
Washington, 18-16-3-2 and with at least one point in each of its past eight games, plays again tomorrow night here against Columbus - another chance for the Caps to pick up needed points in the standings.
But that doesn't mean the Caps will win their next game easily or at all. Yesterday's game against Phoenix, whose 14-16-6-3 record is the worst in the Pacific Division, was anything but easy. And Monday's victory over the Buffalo Sabres, the team with the worst record in the league, was in doubt until the final minutes.
Still, the Caps continue to play well and did so again in this game without right wing Peter Bondra (15 goals, nine assists), who has the flu.
"I don't think we can shut a team down better than that over 60 minutes," said Caps coach Bruce Cassidy. "They seemed content to keep it close and then came up with the game-winner. Hats off to them."
From late in the opening period, as the Caps began dominating play and firing shots at Phoenix goalie Sean Burke (31 saves), this game looked like it was setting up to be a heartbreaker. It was set up to be the kind of game in which the Caps dominate, only to find themselves losing in the closing minutes.
It looked that way to Burke, too.
"We knew we were going to be playing a team that's playing good," said Burke, who returned Monday from a two-month absence caused by an ankle sprain. "Sometimes, if you can weather their storm, it starts to wear on their minds and, sure enough, we got outplayed, but we won the game."
The Caps took the lead in the second period on Gonchar's goal thanks to a major break at 8:31 when Phoenix defensemen Deron Quint (holding) and Ossi Vaananen (cross checking) combined to put Washington on a 5-on-3 power play for a full two minutes.
Though the Caps' power play has been a shambles much of the season and was on a 4-for-42 slide before this game, there was little doubt this was a big moment for Washington.
For Gonchar, it was his first goal since Dec. 1, 15 games ago.
"We shot ourselves in the foot," said Caps defenseman Calle Johansson, who is poised to become the club's all-time leader in games played (941) tomorrow night.
"We could have bore down and scored on some of our chances. But there's no reason to dwell on the one point we didn't get. We played a good game."
Phoenix 0 0 1 1 - 2
Washington 0 1 0 0 - 1
First period - No scoring. Penalties - Henry, Was, major (fighting), 2:20; Hordichuk, Pho, major (fighting), 2:20.
Second period - 1, Washington, Gonchar 6 (Jagr), 9:39 (pp). Penalties - Quint, Pho (holding), 8:31; Vaananen, Pho (cross-checking), 8:31; Mara, Pho (interference), 17:20.
Third period - 2, Phoenix, Nagy 11 (Johnson), 7:11. Penalty-Gonchar, Was (holding), 17:19. Overtime-3, Phoenix, Amonte 11 (Briere, Numminen), 1:20. Penalties - None.
Shots on goal - Phoenix 2-4-7-1-14. Washington 10-15-7-0-32. Power-play opportunities - Phoenix 0 of 1; Washington 1 of 3. Goalies - Phoenix, Burke 4-3-0 (32 shots-31 saves). Washington, Kolzig 14-11-2 (14-12). A - 14,417 (18,277).