Ron Low stopped all 17 Pittsburgh shots in the final period tonight and the Washington Capitals finally achieved a four-game winning streak, holding off the Penguins, 4-3.
"The biggest thing about the whole thing is just winning," said Low afterwards, a fiendish smile in evidence. "It's tough to lose, everybody is disgusted. But when you win, it's like the Stanley Cup."
Low has experienced 166 defeats in three National Hockey League seasons with Washington, either as goaltender or spectator. He made sure this wouldn't be another with an incredible performance in that scoreless final period. Within 10 seconds, with Pittsburgh skating four on three, Low stopped Pierre Larouche on a break-away, blocked Ron Stackhouse's rebound and caught Rick Kehoe's shot despite a screen of Penquins.
"He even stopped a lot of shots that were screened," said coach Tom McVie. "I don't think I've ever seen Ronnie Low play better, unless it was here that last weekend last season when we won, 5-4."
After congratulating Low on the ice, the happy Capitlas carried their pleasure into the dressing room, where they cheered and joked as if they had, indeed, won the Stanley Cup. Certainly, with a 4-1-1 margin over the playoff-bound Penguins, they must be wondering why they aren't Cup contenders.
"There are some games we lost I'd like to play over," McVic said of his 24-40-14 team. "I think we'd win some of them."
The Capitals scored first tonight, as Bob Sirois deflected Jack Lynch's drive from the right point. But goals by Kehoe, Larouche and Kehoe again (No. 30) lifted the Penguins into a 3-1 advantage by the third minute of the second period.
A bit of a dispute between Pittsburg's Bob Kelly and the Capitals' Bryan Watson set the stage for Washington's comeack. Kelly rammed Watson into the boards, then started swinging when Watson checked him moments later. Kelly drew an extra minor penalty as the aggressor and Washington's Gord Smith capitalized deflecting a slap shot off a Pittsburgh defender for his first goal of the season.
Ace Bailey, deprived of a goal by a quick whistle Tuesday night, finally netted his 100th career score on a breakaway set up by ROn Lalonde's superb pass. That tied it, but the Capitals weren't finished.
Bill Riley, who sat out Tuesday's victory over Detroit with a one-game suspension, produced the winner with 2:50 remaining in the period.He took Guy Charron's pass in the slot and hammered the puck through Pittsburg goalie Denis Herron, who was suffering his first defeat in 13 home games.
Two pucks got past Low in the third period, but neither counted. The first time, he had smothered a shot when Pittsburgh's Russ Anderson pushed him into the net with the puck. Referee Dave Newell waved off the red light. Later, Greg Malone, frustrated by Low, shot into the net after a whistle. Low promptly punched him.
"I told him that's the only way he'd ever get a goal," Low said.
Lynch, normally mild-mannered but occasionally driven to mayhem, dealt Kelly a one-sided beating in the second period that left the bearded Penguin holding his head in the penalty box. When they returned to the ice, they lined up next to each other one a faceoff and jockeyed for position until Newell bounced them with misconduct penalties.
"He just challenged me, I didn't do anything to him," Lynch claimed."Then he kept bringing his stick up and I thought maybe he was trying to take my head off. You always think the worst. The fans know me, I played here, and they were really on me. There's something about your first team that beating them always means a little extra.
"Tonight we had 20 guys right together, and every one of us is completely exhausted. It's the best feeling in the world, like the Rose Bowl. Everybody came in the dressing room cheering."
"We've got a hockey club here," McVie said. "There's togetherness on this hockey club. When Bob Kelly wanted to fight, everybody on the team wanted to go after him."
Bailey didn't bother to pursue his 100th-goal puck, but assistant trainer Keith Parked grabbed it.
"You don't keep those," said Bailey, holding an ice pack to his bruised left shoulder. "Parks kept it. He can have it mounted."
"Yeah, we kept it," said Parker. "It's going right in the Hall of Shame."
Then everybody enjoyed another laugh. It was a day for laughter. On the way in from the airport, the team had noticed a billboard reading "Don't let them back in Elect Jack Lynch Mayor."
If he wants the Penguins' votes, he'd better change his name.