The Washington Capitals came home from the West with a two-game winning streak and, presto, another downer. With goalie Michel Plasse blocking 36 shots to earn his first victory of the season, the Colorado Rockies dumped the Caps, 4-3, last night before 6,981 mostly disgruntled loyalists at Capital Centre.
Randy Pierce scored on a third-period breakaway to snap Colorado's seven-game winless streak and the Rockies could be proud of the achievement. Down 3-1 in the second period, they could easily have accepted an eight-ball.
A questionable tripping penalty on Washington defenseman Gord Smith provided the avenue for Colorado's comeback. Referee John McCauley fingered Smith after Pierce took a tumble and, five seconds before the penalty ended, Paul Gardner climaxed some sharp passing by netting the Rockies' 31st power-play goal, high in the NHL.
"McCauley said it was like a clipping call," the incredulous Smith reported. "I wasn't even playing the man. I was first to the puck anyway and I stretched out and knocked the puck back to Gordie (Lane). I don't know whether he (Pierce) was trying to go over me or what."
Having halved the lead, the Rockies needed only 78 seconds to pull even. Barry Beck wound up in the left-wing circle and blasted a slapshot off the stick or goalie Bernie Wolfe into the net.
"I didn't see him shoot it," Wolfe said "I just saw him wind up and I tried to get set, but when a guy with a shot like that gets in so close, you haven't much chance."
The Capitals vainly pressed Plasse, who made some remarkable saves on Rick Green and Dennis Maruk before Pierce sent the Rockies in front with 7:56 remaining. Smith's shot from the left point struck a skate and caromed over the Colorado blue line. Pierce picked it up for a clean breakaway and beat Wolfe with a low shot from 15 feet.
"I just tried to come out and spread out as much as possible," said. "He shot it closer to the inside of my legs than I thought. The goal is four by six and I'm not four by six, so I try to anticipate where he'll shoot. I just anticipated wrong."
"I was thinking 1,000 things as I crossed the blue line," Pierce said. "You usually try to shoot high on Wolfe because he's usually locked in one position and goes down. But I just picked one spot after I crossed the blue line and he never move. I just blasted it."
Mark Lofthouse and Ryan Walter hd multiple opportunities to tie the game, but each was victimized by Plasse and his iron friends, the goal posts.
Loft house raised his tick after one drive, which was deflected by Plasse's glove off the goal post.
"I didn't see it; I thought it must be in", Lofthouse said.
Then, with 27 seconds left and Wolfe pulled for a sixth skater, Walter lined a shot off the crossbar. Milchel Bergeron, who scored his fourth goal earlier, tried to jam the rebound past Plasse, without success.
Plasse, who entered the game with a 0-9-1 record and 4.45 goals-against average, stopped 16 shots in the third period.
"Point-blank situations and he stands on his head," said Washington Coach Danny Belisle. "We make a couple of mistakes and-bang-it's in the net. We had 39 shots and 20 of them must have been right from the goal crease. Plasse hadn't won all year and we couldn't throw rice by him."
Tom Rowe scored twice for the Capitals and boosted his goal production to 13, equaling his total of last year. Each time he was set up by Maruk, who took over the club scoring lead with 24 points. Rowe was stopped three times by Plasse on excellent hat-trick chances in the third period.
"The first two came so easy," Rowe said. "And the third one-. I had some good chances. Denny's playing great. He was making perfect passes all night."
Today Rowe will be in Montreal, for a hearing concerning his gross misconduct penalty in Los Angeles Dec. 4.
"I'm a little concerned," Rowe said. "I don't know what to expect. I'm just going to sit there and take what they give me. I never should have conducted myself the way I did."
Watching from the stands was goalie Jim Bedard, who was restored to the roster late last night, with Rollie Boutin returning to Hershey.
Asked whether Bedard might play in Boston Thursday, Belisle said there was a "good chance."
"I want to play bad," Bedard said.
"This is no time to be collecting splinters."