The snowman cometh to the Mile High City tonight, and he brought both the soothing relief of victory and an infirmary full of new pains to the Washington Capitals.
The Caps snapped their seven game winless streak at the expense of the only team in the National Hockey League with a record more woeful than theirs. They registered a 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies, a club as lowly as its namesake mountain range is lofty.
Physically, however, the Caps wound up looking as if they had fallen off a mountain ledge. The roster of wounded:
Defensemen Rick Green, who scored the game's first goal, injured his left eye when he ran into the stick of teammate Gord Lane. "I was cut across the top of the eyelid and scratched on the eye surface. There's a little blood in it," Green said after returning from a hospital wearing a heavy gauze patch. "The doctor told me I can sate, but can't do anything strenuous for a week."
Defenseman Robert Picara got a first degree separation of his left shoulder when he was run into the boards by Gary Crouteau late in the second period. Picard was treated at a hospital, but Cap General Manager Max McNab said he would go to Vancouver for Saturday's final game of the team's four-game road trip.
Center Dennis Maruk hyperextended his left elbow in a second period collision with Colorado left wing Joe Contini. "I couldn't straighten it out in the third period and had no strength in it," said Maruk, who will have the ailment treated in Vancouver.
Left wing Bob Sirois, who scored the game-winning goal at 7:10 of the second period, injured his right hip in a mid-ice clash with the Rockies' rugged defenseman Barry Beck with only 30 seconds left in the period. He was assisted off the rink by teammates, but said later he had only a bad bruise.
All this came after left wing Greg Carroll suffered back spasms in St. Lpuis Saturday night and missed the Caps' gruesome 10-2 defeat at Los Angeles Monday and tonight's game.
He was replaced by Michel Bergeron, who flew in from Washington today and picked up assists on the Caps' two third period goals - by captain Guy Charron at 1:36 and wing Bob Girard, voted the game's first star, at 5:08.
Moreover, Washington goaltender Bernie Wolfe, who earned the second star by stopping 36 shots, played with a heavy cold and 101 degree fever.
"I feel like I have a time bomb in my head, about to explode," Wolfe had said when the team arrived at its hotel at 4:30 this morning after a delayed and turbulent flight from L.A.
Only 1,952 spectators turned up at the McNichols Sports Arena, and they were offered free coffee at concession stands and souvenir cards imprinted: "I braved a blizzard to watch the Rockies play the Capitals."
Presumably that was a blue badge of lunacy for the most loyal fans, but the customers -- vocal if few in number -- grew increasingly sarcastic with their taunts of the home team's inept play.
The Caps' helter-skelter defense had given up 36 goals in the last five games, and at least one in every period of the losing streak, but ended that ignominious skein by finishing the dull first period with a 1-0 lead.
The Rockies put only eight shots on Wolfe despite having three power plays and a two-men advantage for 1:28 of the period, after Gord Lane was sent off at 13:39 for slashing and his defensemate Gord Smith for triping 32 seconds later.
The Rockies entered the game leading the NHL in power play goals with 29, six in their last five games, but could not score on four opportunities tonight.
The Caps, who had the league's least effective power play and had produced only three goals in their last 29 opportunities, scored four seconds into their second advantage after Mike Christie was sent off for holding the battling Sirois.
Charron won the ensuing face off, the puck going to right wing Tommy Rowe, who shoveled it to Green. The steady defenseman saw an opening and rifled a backhander past goalie Bill Oleschuk, who stopped only 17 of 21 shots on the night
Sirois scored his 11th goal of the season at 7:10 of the second period. Having been switched from an experimental stint on right wing with center Ryan Walter and Paul Mulvey back to left wing on center Dennis Maruk's line, Sirois took a nice pass from wing Rowe and blasted into an open net from the left face-off circle on a two-on-one.
Colorado outshot the Caps in the second period, 14-6, and scored its only goal at 12:34. Leading scorer Croteau, a hefty 6-foot, 202-pound center, netted his 15th of the year from a crowd to the left of Wolfe's crease.
The third period goals by Charron -- the team's scoring leader who had a three-game goal-scoring streak stopped at L.A. -- and Girard made sure the Rockies had fallen.
"The injuries sure disturbed me -- as they kept falling off, I wondered if I'd have anybody left on the bench," said Cap Coash Denny Belisle. "But we played a good road game. We checked well and weren't beaten back to our end very often. That's where we've been very spotty, but we were pretty solid tonight."
The shellacking at Los Angeles Monday certainly spurred the Caps to get their act together. As McNab said, and so many players echoed afterward in various words, "Embarrassment is a great motivator."