The Washington Capitals were eliminated from Stanley Cup playoff contention yesterday - no surprise. For the coup de grace, the Capitals mustered only 14 shots on goal against the St. Louis Blues on home ice-shocking.
Outshot 32-9 over the last 51 minutes, the Capitals dropped a 3-2 decision despite an outstanding goaltending effort by Bernie Wolfe.
Trailing 2-1 after two periods, the Blues capitalized on a pair of goals by Inge Hammarstrom to pull out their second victory in 19 hours and climbed within seven points of a playoff berth, Smythe Division variety.
After posting a 5-4 decision over Chicago in the Checkerdome, the Blues took a charter flight here, arriving at 4 a.m. and sacking out about 5. That didn't leave much room for sleep before the 1:30 faceoff and the Blues, the NHL's oldest group of players, should have shown the effects of the ordeal. Instead it was the Capitals, bouncing merrily off an 8-3 home-ice laugher over Cleveland, who seemed lethargic.
The Blues outfought the Capitals in the corners and slot, passed with greater accuracy and forechecked with more tenacity. Although goalie Phil Myre had minimal activity, he stopped an early flurry of Washington shots, then loomed large on unsuccessful breakaways by Bill Riley and Bill Collins.
For 29 minutes both teams checked closely and it seemed that the NHL, without a shutout since Feb. 25, might see that stretch terminated by both teams.Suddenly, three goals were recorded in 45 seconds.
Answering the fans' chant of "oh-oh-oh, we want one," a parody of Saturday's one-to-eight count and a call for nine, Dave Forbes sent the Capitals ahead with his 10th goal at 9:38 of the second period. His centering pass from the corner struck the skate of St. Louis defenseman Neil Komadoski and caromed past Myre.
St. Louis iron man Garry Unger, playing his 794th straight game, tied it 28 seconds later on a blast from the right-wing circle just inside the far post. It was his 31st goal.
Guy Charron, the hat trick hero of the Cleveland game, untied things with his 29th goal. Bob Girard, who later twisted his left ankle, set up Charron alone in front. Myre poked puck off Charron's stickn but the Washington center regained possession and hit at 10:23.
St. Louis continued to pressure Wolfe, who fought off the Blues with the help of a wide backhander by Hammarstrom, set up in front by Jim Roberts. Hammarstrom isn't the type to miss, forever, however, and when the puck stayed in the Washington end a seemingly interminable time, he took Red Berenson's pass in the right-wing circle and fired a rocket off Wolfe's shoulder into the net with 12:06 left to play.
That woke up the Capitals, outshot by 8-0 in the first eight minutes of the final period. Myre stopped two testing drives by Forbes before Gord Smith, unable to handle a pass at the St. Louis blue line, reflexively tripped Berenson to avoid what he thought would be a breakaway, not knowing that teammate Gord Lane was in position to cover up.
Each team already was a man short and, with Smith in the box, the Blues' Barry Gibbs used the extra ice to set up Hammarstrom just outside the crease. The Swede tipped in Gibbs' pass/shot with 3:02 remaining and St. Louis had its first victory in four games against Washington.
"I didn't know Gordie (Lane) was back," Smith said of the key penalty. "The puck came off the boards so fast I couldn't get my skate on it. I figured I had to pull him down or give the breakaway. I thought I made it look pretty decent, though."
Referee Bryan Lewis was not fooled, and he apparently thought he already had given the Capitals the benefit of sufficient doubt. Lewis did not penalize Tom Rowe when the Washington winger turned quickly and whacked linesman Gerard Gauthier in the head with his stick.
"Somebody had stick under my arm, hooking me," Rowe said. "He was pulling at me and everybody seemed to have a piece of me, so I just wanted to turn around and hit somebody. I didn't know the linesman was there."
Hammarstrom, Unger and Berenson fired 16 shots amoung them, two more than the entire Washington team.
"It's tough when you play the night before at home, jump on a plane and get in the middle of the morning for an afternoon game," said Berenson, who is 38. "But we seemed to hold up fairly well. In fact, we held up better than the Caps."
Nobody was disputing that point. least of all a pair of tiny fans in Section 211, draped in Capitals T-shirts. They had ritually chanted "Let's go Caps" all afternoon, but at game's end they joined the majority of the 10,148 loyalists in loud "Boo."