Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Washington Capitals' scheduled flight was canceled this morning and they loitered in Baltimore-Washington International for 3 1/2 hours before becoming airborne.
Tonight, in Civic Arena, the Capitals never did get off the ground. They dropped a 2-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins and watched those flickering playoff hopes dampened almost beyond revival.
Coupled with Los Angeles' 4-3 victory at Detroit, the loss shoved the Capitals nine points behind the Kings. But worst of all was the knowledge that Pittsburgh was ready, as usual, to be ravished.
The winning score came on a sharply angled backhander by Ron Schock with 6 1/2 minutes remaining. Schock cut past defenseman Jack Lynch, lured goalie Ron Low out a step or two and whipped the puck behind him.
Asked about Schock's shooting room, Low said, "He had enough," Then he lapsed into a string of curses. The game was there. He knew it. They all knew it.
"We needed the game," said coach Tom McVie. "We just weren't sharp. Pittsburgh played like they already had a playoff spot. It didn't look to me like the two points were that hard to get. Our guys worked awful hard. They just didn't accomplish anything."
For most of the night, the Penguins received demeaning verbal treatment from their partisans among the 10,265 fans. Their power play appeared so inept that boos turned to derisive cheers when they crossed the Washington blue line without an offside call.
During the first 30 minutes, the most notable occurrence was the breakdown of the ice machine between the first and second periods. A pickup truck towed away the vehicle and, after a 10-minute delay, a couple of employees with scrapers completed the resurfacing.
It was mostly stop action on the ice, too, until Pittsburgh defenseman Ron Stackhouse intercepted Yvon Labre's clearing pass while the intended recipient, Ace Bailey, turned in the wrong direction. Stackhouse shot, then retrieved his rebound and shoved it past Low at 14:56 of the second period.
Just 22 seconds later the Penguins' Wayne Bianchin was chased for crosschecking. On the ensuing power play, Bill Riley netted his third goal in three games to tie the score. Point man Guy Charron sent a long pass to Riley, at the right of goalie Denis Herron. Riley lifted the puck over Herron's left shoulder, an inch inside the far post.
Herron made a diving glove save of a Labre liner and smothered Hartland Monahan's breakway - Monahan's stick broke in the process - before Schock produced the winner.
If Lynch seemed the culprit on the decisive goal, he could be excused. Minutes earlier, he had been struck over the right eye by a Pierre Larouche blast. Delaying the six-stitch repair work until after the game, Lynch returned to the ice - and pain of a more intense sort.
Riley not only produced the Capitl's goal, he also won the game's lone fight. Pittsburgh defenseman Don Awrey, he of the one goal in four years, missed the net on a breakway. Riley then boarded him, and Awrey responded with a slash. Both dropped their gloves and, after some circling action, Riley scored a quick knockdown.
Although Pittsburgh is two games over .500, its fans are dissatisfied with the team's meek approach to the sport. Shirley Schinkel, the coach's wife, was booed after the second period, even though she was selecting the winning number in an automobile giveaway.
A group of rubber-chicken holders in the first row drew a spirited response from Monahan's stick when they baited him during one of an unending numoer of stoppages in play.
This was the first time the Penguins had beaten Washingon in the last six meetings of the teams. And, as McVie noted, "losing 2-1 against Pittsburgh in their rink is no disgrace."
But there isn't a Capital who won't wake up Sunday without thinking miserably about the big game that got away.