Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
It looked like the usual Capital punishment, a 6-2 lead becoming a 7-6 deficit and worn-down fans showering boos on their down, down team. Then a miracle came to pass at Capital Centre last night.
Rick Green, on a fine setup by Rolf Edberg, lifted the Capitals into a 7-7 tie with the Atlanta Flames, holders of the National Hockey League's best record. But why settle for a tie?
Tom Rowe, with only 76 seconds remaining, broke through the Atlanta defense, snapped up Green's pass and fired a backhander past goalie Yves Belanger to produce a remarkable 8-7 victory.
Owner Abe Pollin, earlier concerned with the fortunes of his beloved Bullets in Ohio, was swept up in the euphoria. Pollin called the game "the biggest win in the history of the franchise. If we'd lost after having that big lead, it would have been a disaster."
Then Pollin, on the spur of the moment, decided to fly to Minnesota, where the Capitals battle the North Stars tonight (WTOP-1500 at 8:30 p.m.).
"I went from 41 to 51 in one game." said Coach Danny Belisle, who sat down, mopping his forehead, to meet the media. "When we got behind, it didn't look good, and I'm proud of my guys that they kept coming back."
After Atlanta's Tom Lysiak slipped the puck between defenseman Leif Svensson's legs, regained possession and beat Jim Bedard with 10:37 remaining, the Capitals seemed ready for the mortician. However, a series of penalties had reduced the teams to three skaters a side and Belisle iced Svensson, Green and Edberg. They succeeded in reversing the momentum, as Edberg pulled Belanger out of the net and his clever pass left Green an open shot.
"The more ice you give Edberg and Svensson, the more they're able to show what they can do," Belisle said. "They're used to big ice - over in Sweden it's as big as the Atlantic. The way we're moving the puck, it looked like we had a two-man advantage."
The Capitals continued to press at full strength, suddenly Rowe broke free for his second goal of the game and the meager crowd of 6,149 filled the Centre with noise.
"I saw Greenie pick up the puck, so I broke for an open area," Rowe said. "I knew if I got through I'd be one on one with Brad Marsh. I played with him in junior and he's kind of slow. I figured if I put a couple of moves on him I could have deked him, so I went outside and then came back in the middle and I had him.
"I'd like to think this will boost the whole club up. It takes a lot of character from everybody to come back after blowing a big lead. But we were just sick of getting knocked around and losing."
Washington connected on its first three shots against Belanger, who was making his first start of the season. Dennis Maruk got it rolling after 11 seconds, matching the Capitals' fastest goal from the start of a game.
Svesson netted his first NHL goal at 1:09 and Mark Lofthouse converted Edberg's pass at 3:03. That beat by more than two minutes the Capitals' previous fastest three-goal start.
Bob MacMillan, the NHL's leading scorer, put the Flames on the board, Edberg matched it, MacMillan connected again and Guy Charron got that back. It was 5-2 when the period ended and, expect for Maruk's twice hitting posts, it could have been more.