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                    Monday, January 1, 2001

                   Capitals 4, Thrashers 2

                   Caps down southern rivals

                    WASHINGTON (AP) -- No one would have blamed Craig Billington
                   for staying up late to welcome in the new year. After all, the
                   Washington Capitals goaltender hadn't played in more than a month and
                   didn't win a game in 2000.

                    Instead, Billington had dinner with his father, got home at 9 p.m. and
                   went to bed early. It turns out he needed the rest: An early New Year's
                   Day phone call brought news that Olaf Kolzig's wife was in labor, so
                   Billington got the start and made 28 saves in Monday's 4-2 victory over
                   the Atlanta Thrashers.

                    "To be honest, that's why I'm here," said Billington, whose last win
                   came on Nov. 27, 1999. "Last night, I'm eating the same as if I were
                   playing. I go to bed when I normally go to bed. You do it in case
                   something like this happens. It rarely happens, but that's why I get the
                   big bucks."

                    The victory, in a game between the two hottest December teams,
                   increased the Capitals' lead over the Thrashers to seven points in the
                   Southeast Division. Washington had the NHL's best record (10-3-1) last
                   month with 21 points, while Atlanta (10-5) was second with 20 points.

                    Dmitri Khristich had a goal and two assists, giving him 14 points in 11
                   games since joining the Capitals on Dec. 11. Khristich put in the rebound
                   of Adam Oates' shot at 17:50 of the second period to put Washington
                   back in front just 16 seconds after the Thrashers had tied it 2-2.

                    Sylvain Cote scored his first goal in 14 games, while Peter Bondra got
                   his 20th for the Capitals. Peter Zednik added the final goal with 2:14
                   remaining on a power play after Donald Audette received a major for
                   high-sticking and a match penalty for attempting to injure.

                    The penalty was as much frustration as anything. Jeff Halpern's line
                   essentially shut down the powerful Audette-Ray Ferraro-Andrew
                   Brunette line the whole game.

                    "He was getting a little frustrated," Thrashers coach Curt Fraser said.
                   "We talked about it before the game, that discipline was going to be the
                   key. ... The Capitals just kept coming and their power play is so good. If
                   you are going to take needless penalties, you are going to pay for them."

                    Per Svartvadet and Patrik Stefan scored for the Thrashers, who outshot
                   the Capitals 30-22. Ferraro nearly tied the game when he hit the left
                   post from the blue line with less than four minutes to go in the game.

                    But it was Vezina Trophy winner's Kolzig news that sent the Capitals
                   scrambling. Kolzig, who had started 15 straight games, notified the team
                   at 8 a.m. that his wife, Christin, was in labor. Billington would start, of
                   course, but emergency call-up Corey Hirsch's plane was delayed, so he
                   didn't arrive until the end of the first period.

                    If Billington had been injured, defenseman Joe Reekie would have had
                   to play goalie.

                    "Joe's gone and put the pads on every year a couple of times," Capitals
                   coach Ron Wilson said. "Not that he's a very good goalie, but you've got
                   to put somebody in there."

                    Billington was 0-3-2 on the season, but the team had scored just nine
                   goals in his five starts.

                    "I think it's overdue," said Billington, whose best save was a diving
                   forearm stop on Dean Sylvester's second-period breakaway. "I know
                   my role. At the same time, it always feels good to contribute on the ice."

                    Bondra opened the scoring on a power play 10:34 into the game,
                   waiting to the right of the crease to poke in a sharp cross-ice pass from
                   Khristich for his eighth goal in six games. Bondra joins Mike Gartner as
                   the only Capitals with 10 20-goal seasons.

                    Svartvadet tied the game on the fourth shot of a frantic assault on the
                   Capitals' goal 5:25 into the second, putting in a rebound from the right
                   circle just inside the far post.

                    Cote then put Washington back ahead 2-1 with a slapshot from the right
                   point at the 12:10 mark. Stefan, taking advantage of a Capitals defensive
                   lapse, tied it 2-2 at 17:34 when his close-range shot trickled past

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