The last surviving member of the Washington Capitals' Brew Line enjoyed his night in the suds last night. Ace Bailey collected his first hat trick in 551 National Hockey League games to lead the Capitals to a 7-4 victory over the Colorado Rockies before 7,105 chameleons at Capital Centre.
The Capitals fell behind, 3-1, in the first period, and the fans were howling their displeasure. But by the time Washington's Bill Riley whacked in his second goal with 1:58 remaining to complete the scoring, it was strictly party time.
It has been a long time between celebrations for Bailey. He hadn't scored a goal all season and was playing in only his 23rd game, his ice time shortened by a badly bruised right knee and by Coach Tom McVie's bewilderment over Bailey's talent vs. performance.
Bailey's first child, son Todd, was born Nov. 28 and it is traditional for the player to save the first goal puck thereafter in the youngster's honor.
"He's waited a long time," Bailey said. "Even getting over that one goal, to break the goose egg, get your confidence back. When you go out on the 28th of February and get no goals, how much confidence can you have?
"It's a funny game. You go 10 games and get no chances, and then all of a sudden you get six or seven. If I could figure it out, I'd be a millionaire."
If McVie could figure it out he'd be able to sleep.The Capitals, reaching a season high last night, scored as many goals as they had in six previous games.
Riley deflected a Rick Green slap shot for an early 1-1 tie, but those boos were fairly common before Mark Lofthouse converted a Guy Charron setup to pull Washington within 3-2.
Bailey's first goal, with 1:12 left in the first period, was made possible because Colorado defenseman Barry Beck skated into his goalie, Doug Favell, behind the Rockies' net. Riley grabbed the puck and fed Bailey for an open netter.
A 40-foot blast by Bryan Watson gave the Capitals the lead to stay. Bailey collected the eventual winner. Gerry Meehan dug the puck out along the rear boards and passed to Bailey in front.
Ron Andruff's diving deflection of a Dennis Owchar shot got the Rockies back in it and they applied tremendous pressure early in the third period, before Bailey's third goal provided breathing space.
Bailey deflected Gord Smith's slap shot and the puck spun through Favell to rest on the goal line. A Colorado defender, trying to clear the puck, instead knocked it in.
"It was rolling right on the line and I could see it and I swore, because it looked like it was stopped," Bailey said. "Then their defenseman poked at it and pushed it in."
Bailey had a chance for a club-record-tying fourth goal, when Meehan set him up in the slot, but he fired wide.
"Gerry set me up so many times I was getting tired near the end," Bailey said.
Bailey, now 29, played for the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in 1972, but he never managed a hat trick because "usually we were passing to those guys (Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito) so they could get their three or four a game."
Bailey bounced to Detroit and St. Louis before reaching Washington in the Denis Dupere trade in February 1975. He wound up on a line (facetiously termed the Brew Line) with Tommy Williams, now an insurance salesman, and Stan Gilbertson, who lost a leg in an auto wreck while playing for Pittsburgh in September.
In the final game in April 1975, Gilbertson recorded the Capitals' only four-goal game, Bailey had four assists and Williams totaled six points, a club record, on two goals and four assists. There were high hopes for the trio, but their fun-loving antics drove coach Milt Schmidt to distraction and all but Bailey soon departed.
McVie, never one to dodge a question, talked about Bailey's limited ice time last night.
"The knee was bad and he was also in the doghouse a little bit," McVie said. "It's been off again, on again with Ace. He's a talented hockey player. When he puts the ability forth, he could be the best left winger on our hockey club. Sometimes he is, sometimes he isn't."