Filles Meloche was a masked bandit in the Cleveland nets tonight, turning aside 30 Washington shots as the Barons swept to a 4-2 victory over the Capitals.
It was the sixth straight time the Barons had prevailed over Washington but unlike some past efforts the Capitals on this night had little to be ashamed of.
Afterward, in fact, Washington coach Tom McVie walked through the dressing room, paused outside the shower and said. "Don't be discouraged by that damn game. That's the best we've played in this building. You guys worked damn hard."
Down 3-1, the Capitals achieved a breath of life with 68 seconds remaining. Walt McKechnie netted a rebound of a Jack Lynch shot while Tom Rowe distracted Meloche by battling with defenseman Jim Neilson in the slot.
McVie pulled goalie Gary Smith for sixth skater in a bid for a tie, but Dave Gardner hit the empty net with 35 seconds left to send the crowd of 10,253 into a mild form of ecstasy.
Smith was superb in his Washington debut, blocking 30 shots himself. But even he was forced to admire the man at the opposite end of the ice.
"Meloche did a great job, he's really good, Smith said. "We might have [WORD ILLEGIBLE] or something if he wasn't so hot.
Meloche came to the Barons, then the California Seals, from Chicago in 1971, in a deal for Gary Desjardins that became instead a trade for Smith When Desjardins developed a sore arm. The year before Meloche replaced him, Smith set an NHL record by playing in 71 games for the Seals. None of his teammates remain, however, and Meloche, at 27, is the old man in point of service.
Ralph Klassen, Kris Manery and Fred Ahern beat Smith tonight, all on virtually unstoppable shots. Ahern at 25, is the oldest of the trio and this young hard-working team of Barons appears to have a splendid future if the fans keep coming.
In the first 10 minutes of the second period, with Washington trailing, 1-0. Meloche went down to block a point-blank shot by Rowe, deflected a Guy Charron, came out to smother a shot by Rowe and blocked a Charron drive that deflected off Gerry Meehan in the slot.
Bob Sirois finally drilled one past Meloche from the right-wing circle on a power play to tie the game at 1-1, but University of Michigan product Manery put the Barons ahead to stay on a rebound of his own shot.
"I had about six inches and I just took a look and shot," said Sirois, scoring his second goal in as many nights. "I shot pretty hard. I guess that's the only way to get it by him. We could have had lots more, but the puck seemed to be bouncing a lot over a stick or under a stick."
"Their goalie just played one hell of a game." said team captain Yvon Labre, who wore a brace to support a strained right knee and still found himself spinning down without being hit. "In the second period, we could have had five goals, but he stopped everything."
"I was right in the doorstep on those two shots," said Rowe."I should have gone up high, because he goes down so much.I'll know next time. But he's quite a goalie."
"Meloche wins the game," said McVie. "he plays a hell of a game. Our guys looked good, too. There were a couple of times when we get to center ice and couldn't get the puck in their zone and they came back in our end and scored. We've got things to work on. But our hockey club is on the come."