The Washington Capitals turned over a new leaf last night. They won a home game, for only the third time this season, by outscoring the Toronto Maple Leafs, 7-6.
Bob Sirois and Dennis Maruk, both subjected to recent verbal criticism from Capital Centre fans, scored two goals apiece and Bob Girard, Michel Bergeron and Guy Charron collected singles. Still, the crowd of 5,894 second smallest in the Centre's hockey history, had to wait until the final buzzer before celebrating. The Capitals permitted a 7-4 margin to deteriorate to one goal and only a diving catch by goalie Bernie Wolfe on Lanny Mcdonald with 17 seconds left preserved the victory.
Although Wolfe survived his fourth triumph of the season, he was uncertain about possible celerations, Today is Wolfe's 27th birthday and for a present the Capitals posted a sign reading "Inness" over half his cubicle. Gary Inness, left unemployed by the demise of the World Hockey Association Indianapolis Racers, agreed to terms last night and became the Capitals' third goaltender.
Coach Danny Belisle heaved a water bottle and kicked a towel in the closing hectic minutes, then leaned on the boards to watch Greg Carroll win a key faceoff from Toronto's Darryl Sittler in the Washington end and avert further testing of Wolfe.
"I think our players are trying to test my nerves," Belisle said, "I threw a few bottles and tape. There was nothing more to throw. I couldn't get my shoe off.
"It's been frustrating. The fans have been yelling, because there's a lot of things they don't understand, but you can't expect them to understand. Still, they're shoving their frustration on the players, and they're playing tight. The pressure keeps mounting. I guess a win heals all wounds, though. We needed those two points."
Sirois also talked of the pressure, noting the club's large number of youngsters and saying, "If the fans get on the players each time we make a mistake, then it just adds to the pressure on the young players. I haven't been playing well at home myself. I give always better effort on the road and I don't know why. But this feels so good."
Maruk has been playing for two weeks with a hyperextension of the left elbow, making it impossible for him to bend his arm fully. So he was as surprised as the crowd when he retrieved a pass blocked by Toronto's Dave Burrows and blasted a 30-footer past relief goalie Mike Palmateer for Washington's seventh and eventual winning goal.
"it was all golf," Maruk said. "He went down and the puck sailed over him. I can't snap my wrist because of the snap in my elbow. It hurts and I'm afraid to damage it more. I've been very frustrated. I lose feeling in the arm whenever I get banged on it and the more I get banged the worse it gets.
"I had some bad luck, too, Bobby (Sirois) and Tommy (Rowe) were scoring, but I was unlucky and they weren't going in. I didn't appreciate the remark about not feeling able to put the puck in the ocean (by Belisle), but maybe this will change things."
Maruk's first goal, on a rebound of Robert Picard's first-period shot, was his 100th in the NHL. Charron also reached a milestone with his 250th NHL assist, setting up Bergeron's score that lifted Washington into a 4-2 lead early in the second period.
Toronto wiped that out in less than two minutes, on goals by John Anderson and Jerry Butler. Then Charon missed the net on a Girard setup and Mark Lofthouse hit a post on a breakway. It looked as if the Capitals were stuck in that same old luckless hut, but suddenly they received a mistletoe smacker from Lady Luck.
Sirois took a routine 55-foot shot and starting goalie Paul Harrison brought up his stick. The puck deflected off the stick into the net for Sirois' 15th goal, putting Washington ahead to stay and Harrison on the bench, as Toronto yanked a starting goalie for the first time in two years.
Charron deflected a Picard slap shot for his 10th goal and a 6-4 lead before the second period ended. Then Maruk made his hole in one and the Capitals appeared home free-to anyone who is unfamiliar with third periods at Capital Centre.
Only 5:06 remained when Wait Mc kechnie, the man Tom Mcvie fired a year ago for indifferent play, haunted his former teammates by converting a breakway to make it 7-5.
Belisle turned bottle thrower as Wolfe was forced to make three quick saves against the pressing Leafs. The towel went sailing when Mckechnie blasted his 12th goal past Wolfe from the right-wing circle with 1:31 to play.Somehow it got no closer.
Belisle called a timeout after Wolfe's save on Mcdonald, permitting weary defensemen Rick Green and Pete Scamurra to get some rest before the final push. Carroll's victory on the faceoff enabled Green to clear the puck out of danger.
Washington played with four defense-men almost the entire game. Picard and Leif Svensson sharing the load. Gord Smith and Bryan Watson made only token appearances and Gord Lane did not dress.
Ryan Walter's rib cage remained too painful for play, although he said that "it felt a lot better when we won." Toronto also was missing an important figure, with NHL penalty leader Tiger Williams serving the second of a three-game suspension.
Although the Capitals never have won a game in Toronto, this was their fifth victory over the Leafs here. Belisle wished it had come easier and long after the game he was still trying to find a match to light that rare victory cigar.