Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
With 30 seconds to play last night, Ace Bailey's bid for a tying goal struck the crossbar and caromed harmlessly into the stands. It was almost as though somebody up there was telling the Washington Capitals they didn't deserve to win.
They didn't, either. When Tim Ecclestone scored into an empty net 17 seconds later, the Atlanta Flames poured onto the ice to celebrate a hard-earned 4-2 victory that maintained their four-point margin over the New York Rangers in their playoff pursuit.
The Flames unlikly hero was Tom Lysiak, so scorned by coach Fred Creighton that he was chosen to serve a second-period bench minor for too many men on the ice. He wasn't being fingered as the villain of the violation, because it was clearly caused by Richard Mulhern's error in touching the puck while he was headed for the bench.
Lysiak, a center playing his second game at left wing after swapping spots with another doghouse resident. Curt Bennett, snapped a 2-2 tie with a marvelous effort midway through the final period.
Lysiak, after losing possession in front of the Washington net, dove on his stomach to shove the puck to Mulhern at the point. Passes from Mulhern to Eric Vail to Lysiak left the Flame alone in front and he did not miss. The goal was Lysiak's 21st of the season, but his first since Feb. 19.
"I've been trying to be a team player and I've been hurting the team," Lysiak said. "I'm better working individually."
The Capitals are much better working as a team, but they displayed little evidence of teamwork in this one and were sent off on a week's road trip with the boos of the unfaithful ringing in their ears. They were doing a bit of booing, too, refusing to talk to announcer Ron Weber over an airwaves slight, so perhaps it's just as well the season is within 12 games of the end.
Goalie Bernie Wolfe turned back 30 Atlanta shots to keep Washington in the game. Many of his saves were difficult ones, as the Capitals repeatedly gave away the puck in the their own end. Atlanta posted a 17-8 shooting edge in the second period, but still trailed 2-1 on the scoreboard, thanks to Wolfe's efforts.
Rey Comeau opened the scoring at 5:04 of the second period, collecting the rebound of Bobby Simpson's shot, spinning and firing past Wolfe. The Capitals, were due for a penalty. Gordie Lane having cross-checked Simpson after his shot, but Washington never got possession to stop play.
After Wolfe made a big save on Vail, the puck was loose and Washington's Yvon Labre cross-checked Ken Houston into the net. With Labre off, Bill Collins took a headman pass from Ron Lalonde and outskated the trailing Lysiak on a breakaway for his second shorthanded goal of the season. It was 8:04 of the period and the shot cut the Flames' edge in that department to 12-2.
Only 12 seconds remained in the period when Washington's Hartland Monahan checked Pat Quinn off the puck behind the Atlanta goal line. The puck caromed like a billiard ball to Rick Bragnalo in the slot and he connected for his 10th goal, first since Jan. 11.
A goal that close to an intermission usually gives a team a big lift, while depressing the victim. It was hardy a factor here, as the Flames posted a 12-4 edge in third-period shots.
The first of those 12 shots created a 2-2 tie, with Houston scoring from the slot off Vail's pass from behind the net.
Collins, the Capitals' best player on this unhappy night, was forced to depart in the third period because of a broken hinge on his skate. He missed the shift on which Lysiak returned to Creighton's good graces.