Following his 48th game as coach of the Washington Capitals, Gary Green finally unloaded on the officials. Greens specific target last night was referee Alf Lejeune, who also was serenaded by the Capital Centre crowd of 7,771 with the chant, "We want a ref."
Closely associated with the Capital complaints was the 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies in a game that was vital to the Capitals' playoff hopes.
Providing added frustration to Washington's postgame outlook was the loss in the second period of defensemen Rick Green and Pat Ribble Green aggravated the bruise on his left knee, Ribble injured his right hand.
"I blocked a shot on the back of the hand and now I can't move the hand," Ribble said. "I'm going for X-rays tomorrow."
Additionally, Paul MacKinnon missed several shifts after taking a shot below the belt and Alan Hangsleben aggravated an injured right hand Earlier, Pierre Bouchard had his wallet stolen on the flight here from Montreal, so it was a forgettable day for the defensive corps.
There was a positive atmosphere before the game, with the team peddling playoff tickets to season ticket holders and fans posting an assortment of signs with slogans like "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now" and "The Caps Are on the Move to the Playoffs."
The negatives began with the opening faceoff and dominated the rest of the evening. Lanny McDonald scored twice in the first period and that proved to be enough for the Rockies. Only some excellent saves by goalie Wayne Stephenson prevented a rout as the Capitals, playing their sixth game in nine days, were tripping over their own feet.
"The first period we were sluggish and we didn't seem to have the legs," Gary Green said, "In the second period we started to roll and in the third we had enough chances to win.
"I don't think too much of the officiating out there tonight. I don't know what they're thinking about, but to the Washington Capitals this game is just as important as the Philiadelphia-Montreal game. This means the playoffs to us, those teams are already in. We can't afford to have a poorly officiated gamed like that."
The first big point of the contention occurred early in the second period. Washington's Dennis Maruk fired a backhander, the puck appeared to cross the goal line, then, it caromed out. The light came on, but Lejeune, after consultation with his linesmen, ruled that the puck had not fully crossed the goal line.
"It was in," Maruk insisted. "His (golie Hardy Astrom) pad was behind the post. The puck hit his pad and came out. The referee wasn't in position to see it."
Early in the third period, Washington's Mike Gartner was hauled down without a penalty, then seconds later Ryan Walter was whistled off for hooking Colorado's Mike Christie, Stephenson's superb play killed off the penalty and Washington scored with 7:13 remaining as Gartner converted Antero Lehtonen's pass from behind the Colorado net for his 24th goal.
Barry Smith scored an empty-net goal to clinch it.
The Capitals were pressing when Colorado's Kevin Morrison fell and writhed, apparently in agony. Lejeune whistled play to a halt with Washington in possession of the puck. Morrison recovered.
"We had a two on one and Morrison takes a dive," Green said. "the ref blows the whistle, I could tell our players anytime they're in trouble to take a dive and I'd expect him to do the same."
With 2:45 remaining, Morrison flattened Washington's Bengt Gustafsson. The Swede rose and shouted at Morrison, then Lucien Deblois high sticked Gustafsson from beind. Lehtonen grabbed DeBlois, while other players wrestled for a few seconds.
DeBlois was given a double minor any other stage, that would have been fine with the Capitals, but at that late moment it meant that Washington had a power play for only the last 45 seconds.
"Giving Lehtonen that penalty, I don't know who he thought he was helping out," Green said.
"Just brutal, just brutal," Lehtonen said.
The result maintained a remarkable record for Colorade Coach Don Cherry, who has never lost to Washington in 27 meetings while guiding Boston and the Rockies. Often contentious in his postgame comments, Cherry this time was magnanimous.
"They're (the capitals) playing good hockey and they've got good hockey players," Cherry said. "Green is doing a helluva job. Danny Belisle was doing a good job at this point last year, but Green has a lot of talent to work with now."
Belisle, who was in attendance, must have felt at home, with all those boos floating around. But, minutes after the game had ended, there was positive news. Quebec had lost to Los Angeles, leaving Washington in its pregame position, four points away from a playoff spot.