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Quiet excellence for Olie the goalie

It's becoming the worst-kept secret of the series: Kolzig's play has been key for Capitals.

By TOM JONES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 15, 2003


WASHINGTON -- The defining moment, the most crucial instant in this Lightning-Capitals series might have happened in the second period of Game 1.

Lightning whiz-kid Vinny Lecavalier was alone in front of the net, a tying goal on his stick. He made a spellbinding move, the kind that breaks ankles, tangles spines, turns goalies into statues.

Instead, Washington goalie Olaf Kolzig seemed to turn into a Slinky. He whipped out his left pad and made a stunning save. Moments later, the Caps scored. They went on to win Game 1, then carried that into a Game 2 victory. If Lecavalier had tied the score, maybe Game 1 would've been different. And Game 2, too.

Instead, just like the aftermath of Kolzig's save, the Lightning is left scratching its head, while the Caps are holding theirs high.

"You feed off (a goalie)," Washington coach Bruce Cassidy said. "And you can frustrate the other team."

That's what Kolzig's save, and his play since then, has done.

"No question, that was big," Kolzig said. "There are so many emotional plays in the playoffs. Saves like that can elevate the emotion level."

Goalies such as Kolzig can raise their team's level. Nearly lost among the Caps' conga line of big-name stars, Kolzig is quietly becoming this series' most important player, and slowly working into the Lightning's nightmares.

That is how Kolzig works: quietly, slowly, almost unnoticeable. Take Monday. As the media horde covering the series raced into the Caps' dressing room, the cameras and microphones and notebooks rushed names such as Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang, Peter Bondra. Meantime, Kolzig stood at his corner locker, casually talking to only a couple of reporters like he was hanging out with a couple of old high school buddies.

He joked. He laughed. He talked like a regular guy, not the guy who has put his fingerprints all over the series by allowing three goals in two games.

"(The Lightning) has played well at times, but Olie has been there for us," Cassidy said. "They came out hard in Game 2, and we withheld it thanks to Olie."

It might even be accurate to say the reason the Caps lead the series is because Kolzig has outplayed Tampa Bay's Nikolai Khabibulin. And really, other than his save on Lecavalier, Kolzig hasn't made any mind-blowing saves.

"He has played well, but it's not like he's made a save and I've said, 'Wow!' " Lightning forward Fredrik Modin said. "He hasn't been standing on his head."

No, Kolzig simply has made every save he is supposed to make. And that, Kolzig said, means more than making a save that ends up on SportsCenter.

"You give up a goal you shouldn't, and sometimes it deflates your team," Kolzig said. "It takes a little bit of momentum away. But you really don't try to think that way. You just try to keep the puck out of the net."

He has done that all season, which he calls the best of his career -- even better than when he took the Caps to the Stanley Cup final in 1998. He is more experienced, he said. More mature. Less rattled during tough times. Consider this: He shut out the Lightning in Game 1 even though he was pulled after a lousy start in his regular-season finale.

"I didn't lose any confidence," Kolzig, 33, said. "I knew I had a pretty good year."

And the way he is playing, his year is far from over.

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