A huge portion of the Caps’ fan base knows enough about Dale Hunter to write a short book, or at least a lengthy personal essay.
A huge portion of the Caps’ fan base also never watched Hunter skate a single shift in Washington. (And, er, a huge portion of the D.C. sports media crew, too.)
There are doubtless dozens of plays the team’s new coach made in his Washington tenure worthy of mentioning, but the one mentioned most (at least, that doesn’t involve Pierre Turgeon) is the above goal. And so, naturally, that means it’s time for a quick trip to the archives.
The scene actually began in the 1987 playoffs, with a four-overtime defeat. It continued that June, when the Caps traded for the gritty Hunter, whom Tony Kornheiser brilliantly labeled “A Flyer in Capitals clothing.” (The exact trade was Clint Malarchuk and Hunter for Alan Haworth, left wing Gaetan Duchesne and a first-round draft pick that the Nordiques used to select Joe Sakic.)
Malarchuk got the majority of the space in The Post’s report the following day, but Coach Bryan Murray said Hunter was “one of the most enthusiastic, fiery, competitive guys in the NHL” and that “There is not one team in the league that would not do something to try to get him if they had the chance.” By September, the Caps signed him to a long-term deal, amid talk that he was the leader the club had lacked.
“You have to do something to be a leader,” Hunter said then. “You have to earn it.”
Each April back then brought stories of a Capitals playoff nightmare and accusations that they weren’t tough enough, and 1988 seemed like more of the same. Up 4-1 during the third period of Game 4 in Philly, the series was set to be tied at 2. Instead, Washington blew the lead in 10 minutes and lost in overtime.
But they won Games 5 and 6, the latter in resounding 7-2 fashion, to set up yet another Game 7 at the Cap Centre. In this one they fell behind, 3-0, before Hunter rallied them. Michael Wilbon had the sidebar:
“At a time like that, you’re looking for one thing to turn it around; something simple,” [Rod Langway] said. “It was a great play by Hunter that got it turned around, and then it was just meant to be.”
The great play Langway referred to wasn’t the game-winning goal, which came nearly seven minutes into overtime, but a game-changing pass nearly seven minutes into the second period from Hunter to Gary Galley.
Hunter’s pass perfectly set up Galley for the Capital’s first goal, and helped eliminate that fear of being blown out that so many of the Capitals must have been feeling.
That isn’t the play the NHL made an ad about, though. The play everyone remembers came in overtime, when Hunter scored on a breakaway at 5:57, beating Ron Hextall to give Washington the 5-4 win. Larry Murphy called it “the biggest goal in the history of the franchise.”
“I kind of moved the puck a little bit and he left a little room between his legs,” Hunter said. “I was glad to see it go through. There wasn’t much room.”
Hunter finished the game with two goals and an assist. Then-GM David Poile called it “the most important win ever for this team.” The Post’s William Gildea described it as “the sweetest in the history of the franchise.” Abe Pollin got involved, saying “The rap we’ve had about not winning big games, about chokes, ought to be put to rest forever.” Even Kornheiser got all wobbly
Listen carefully and you may hear the faint echo of footsteps receding further and further into the distance. That would be the monkey the Washington Capitals finally shook off their backs. He’s scampering to find a new victim....
No matter what happens from here on, no matter how badly or how often they lose, nobody can call the Capitals chokers anymore. They fought off three match points, and became only the fifth NHL team to win a seven-game playoff series after losing three of the first four games. They did something they’d never done before: They proved themselves.
“Well, we’re not chokers, anyways,” Hunter said after downing a beer, as seen above. “We showed that we’re not chokers.”
And then Bill Gildea wrote an awesome Hunter profile, that included this bit:
“He’s an instigator of trouble on the ice,” said [Clint] Malarchuk, “and he’s the same off the ice.
“I mean, in the dressing room, if your shoes are nailed to the floor, you know who did it. It’s automatic.”
Look into Hunter’s pale blue eyes and one can see a little bit of devil.
“One time I put my sock on,” said Malarchuk, “and there’s a cockroach in there. He put a cockroach in my sock.”
Malarchuk also said that you wouldn’t find Hunter in GQ, but “but you might see him in ‘Mr. Tractor Pull.’ ”
More on Boudreau firing/Hunter hiring:
Poll: Was it the right move?
Tracee Hamilton: Boudreau had to go
D.C. SportsBog: Top 10 Boudreau moments
Box Seats: Caps say “Goodnight Bruce”
Q&A: Boswell on firing
Photos: Boudreau fired