Caps hang on against Avalanche for 2-1 win


WASHINGTON - Some Washington Capitals have been saying for a while now that sooner or later pride has to kick in.

The question most of the season has been, when?

The Capitals were embarrassed Friday in a two-goal loss to the injured and struggling Los Angeles Kings, and Washington was a team in need of redemption. Last night, with a sellout crowd of 18,277 looking on at MCI Center, the Caps atoned with a vigorous 2-1 victory.

Washington scored two first-period goals and made them stand. Sergei Gonchar scored first off assists by Sergei Berezin and Dainius Zubrus, to end his nine-game scoring drought. Berezin, who was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks last week, scored the second goal, which was also his second in two games as a Capital, with assists from Robert Lang and Zubrus.

Berezin's goal turned out to be the game-winner after Joe Sakic made it 2-1 in the second period.

"It feels good to make a good first impression," said Berezin, a speedy forward who has found some immediate chemistry with Lang. "I know everyone was disappointed after the L.A. game, but this is no time to get frustrated. You just have to go out and play your best."

Berezin has been playing on the line with Lang in the absence of Jaromir Jagr (wrist) and Kip Miller (hand). Capitals coach Bruce Cassidy said he didn't know whether Berezin would stay on that line when those two first-liners return - perhaps as early as the team's next game in Calgary on Thursday - "but if he keeps scoring a goal a game, we'll find a place for him."

Washington's defense, without Brendan Witt (ribs), played well most of the game. Jason Doig played a solid 21 minutes, and Jean-Francois Fortin and Joel Kwiatkowski turned in a little over eight minutes each, to help ease the burden on Ken Klee, Calle Johansson and Gonchar.

Against the Avalanche, which was without leading scorer Peter Forsberg (leg), the Caps were playing the fourth-best team in the Western Conference and one still battling for an NHL-record-setting ninth straight division crown.

"There is a little fear factor at work when we play teams like Philadelphia and Colorado," said Capitals goalie Olie Kolzig (21 saves), who noted that the Caps won both those games, 2-1. "It [fear] revved us up. Everyone did their job, and when we take the play to teams, it gives us jump and lift."

With the win, the Capitals moved within a point of Tampa Bay in the race for the Southeast Division title, but Kolzig noted: "Everything rests in Tampa's hands. They have the lead, and they have a game in hand."

He added, however, he would almost rather enter the playoffs as a sixth or seventh seed and be viewed as an underdog.

That's fortunate, because the Capitals have a hard road to travel just to make the playoffs. They head to Canada this week for a six-game trip that begins in Calgary and continues in Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto before returning to MCI Center on April 1.

The Capitals are 2-6-1 against the six Canadian teams this season.

Colorado 0 1 0 - 1

Washington 2 0 0 - 2

First period - 1, Washington, Gonchar 15 (Berezin, Zubrus), 11:59. 2, Washington, Berezin 20 (Lang, Zubrus), 16:44. Penalty-Hinote, Col (roughing), 20:00. Second period - 3, Colorado, Sakic 25 (Tanguay, Marchment), 2:56. Penalties - Foote, Col, major (fighting), 13:20; Sutherby, Was, major (fighting), 13:20; Konowalchuk, Was (boarding), 20:00. Third period - None. Penalties - Battaglia, Col (interference), 2:50; Lang, Was (holding stick), 10:03. Shots on goal - Colorado 6-6-10-22. Washington 13-9-6-28. Power-play opportunities - Colorado 0 of 2; Washington 0 of 2. Goalies - Colorado, Aebischer 7-11-0 (28 shots-26 saves). Washington, Kolzig 29-22-6 (22-21). A - 18,277 (18,277). T-2:16.

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