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                    Wednesday, February 7, 2001

                   Capitals 3, AVALANCHE 1

                   Capitals punished Avs in Denver


                    DENVER (AP) -- Protecting Craig Billington from himself proved to be a
                   perfect strategy for the Washington Capitals.

                    Before the All-Star break, Washington coach Ron Wilson and his staff
                   decided Billington would start Wednesday night against the Colorado
                   Avalanche, but withheld the information until the morning skate.

                    "We didn't want to tell anybody. We didn't want to ruin Craig's All-Star
                   break," Wilson said after Billington made 31 saves in a 3-1 victory over the

                    "Sometimes he watches tapes until he is blue in the face. Sometimes it
                   becomes counterproductive. The two best starts he's had this year, he
                   hasn't known until the morning of the game that he was going to play."

                    Richard Zednik and Jeff Halpern scored third-period goals to help the
                   Capitals snap Colorado's nine-game (8-0-1) home unbeaten streak.
                   Washington also won in Denver for the first time in five games since
                   Colorado moved from Quebec in 1995.

                    Fittingly, it was Billington's first game against the Avalanche since leaving
                   Colorado after serving as Patrick Roy's backup from 1996-99.

                    "Emotions were high and playing against my mentor on the other end, it
                   was exhilarating," Billington said. "Playing against Patrick is special,
                   because I don't know how many chances I'll have to do that. When all is
                   said and done in life, all you have is memories and moments."

                    Billington, whose last start was Jan. 1, frustrated the Avalanche with
                   several good saves through the first 57 minutes, but surrendered a
                   power-play goal to Joe Sakic that cut Washington's lead to 2-1 with 6:09

                    Peter Forsberg set up Sakic when he charged in from the right side and
                   circled the net to lure Billington out of position. Sakic scored easily as he
                   beat Washington's Peter Bondra to the crease.

                    Colorado, the NHL's top team, saw its chances end when Steve
                   Konowalchuk scored into an empty net with 20 seconds left.

                    "We were soft not only in front of their net, but we were soft in front of
                   our net," Colorado coach Bob Hartley said. "I felt we were playing all right
                   for a 0-0 game. You've got to find a way to win those games."

                    Halpern gave the Capitals a two-goal lead at 11:02 after Roy strayed from
                   the crease to play the puck along the boards. Konowalchuk made it difficult
                   for Roy to clear the puck, and Halpern intercepted and fired a shot into an
                   open net.

                    Roy, who had 20 saves, responded by heaving his stick to the opposite blue
                   line about 110 feet away.

                    "It was a bad decision by me," he said. "Too bad it cost us the second goal
                   and it probably cost a point to our team. Who knows? The important things
                   for me is learning from that play."

                    Roy's stick stopped well short of Billington, who couldn't resist a joke at his
                   friend's expense.

                    "I wish he had signed it before he threw it," he said. "I would have kept it."

                    After a scoreless first two periods, Zednik broke through at 6:37 of the
                   third. He held the puck unchallenged behind the net, skated to the front and
                   flipped a back-hander behind Roy to the short side.

                    Billington, playing in place of regular Olaf Kolzig, showed little rust,
                   stopping 14 shots in the opening period. He also stuffed Milan Hejduk on a
                   2-on-1 chance midway through the second.

                    "This is one game you throw a guy to the wolves," Wilson said. "It took us
                   a while to get our bearings out there. He made some big saves when we
                   really needed them."

                    Roy was equally stingy, making seven saves in a five-minute span of the
                   second period, but he ultimately was haunted by his third-period gaffe.

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