Most of the Washington Capitals' modest achievements this season have been celebrated on the road. Last night, however, the season's second largest Capital Centre hockey crowd of 11,861 was treated to an overflow of goodies.
The Capitals thrashed the Detroit Red Wings, 5-1, to break out of the teams' deadlock for fourth place in the Norris Division. In the process, rookie Ryan Walter became the first Capital to score goals in five straight games.
Robert Picard collected his 11th goal and added a new dimension to the club record of 10 goals by a defenseman set by him last year.
Bob Sirois netted his 19th goal, but only his first in eight games, and Tom Rowe collected his 17th to end a six-game drought.
Goalie Gary Inness was the game's No. 1 star, stopping 34 shots and for the second time in two weeks losing a shutout against the Red Wings on a third-period goal, this time a short-handed score by Paul Woods.
Rookie Gary Rissling scored his third goal in only nine NHL games and provided the fans with their final treat -- a full-scale brawl involving most of the players on both teams after the final buzzer.
Rissling, 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, and the Wings' Dennis Polonich, 5-6 and 170, tangled in the main event, which eventually brought in Detroit goalie Rogie Vachon and the Capitals' backup netminder, Bernie Wolfe.
"I guess they were upset that they lost," Rissling said. "There were just a few words and then we bumped in. These things happen."
"All our players were congratulating Gary (Inness)," Wolfe said. "Rissling and Polonich went at it and as I'm skating over -- I'm last off the bench -- all the Detroit guys are standing around. I stayed there in case Rissling needed help and then (Bill) Lochead jumps him from behind.
"I can't get at Lochead, so I wound up getting at Polonich instead. Vachon is so small, I guess he couldn't see what was happening, so he comes after me and puts a finger in my eye. I started hitting him. He was hot, because he'd lost and given up five goals. But I didn't realize I still had my blocker on when I was hitting him."
"I saw Wolfe on top of one of our guys, so what could I do?" said Vachon, who wound up a forlorn sight, minus his jersey. The fans who remained jeered him.
Walter, in typical fashion, gave line-mates Guy Charron and Blair Stewart the credit for his record. Charron had reached four straight games four times but he had never scored in game five and he laughed and said, "You know how it is.These kids come up and try to take away all our records. The next thing he'll be doing is scoring 50 goals."
"It's nice to do it," Walter said, "but the biggest thing is that the team is playing well. It's always nicer to achieve a record when the team is doing well. There's only so much satisfaction in individuality. We're all eating out of the same soup bowl."
Detroit enjoyed an 11-2 advantage in shots after 11 minutes, but Inness kept the game scoreless. Then Sirois cut down the right wing, threaded a path through three Red Wings and beat Vachon with a 40-foot drive down the middle.
"I was looking for a guy to pass to," Sirois said, "but then the defenseman went with (Rolf) Edberg so I went into the opening. When you're in a slump, you just try to shoot and that's what I did.
"Now the guys feel like they want to come home and play. Everybody is happy and relaxed. It's a nice feeling."
Vachon was trying to play the puck with his team short-handed in the second period when Rick Green batted the puck away from him to Sirois, who fed Picard for a 55-foot drive from the left point. Green, who got two assists later, was deprived of one here by the official scorer. While teams are frequently robbed of deserved points on the road, Washington is the only one that routinely is short-changed at home.
Walter's rebound of a Stewart shot made it 3-0 and Rowe converted a superb pass by Dennis Maruk to make it 4-0.
"I've been passing too much," Rowe said. "I wasn't playing my game. I tried to change my style. I was all over the ice instead of going up and down."
Washington, which won only two of its first 14 home games, has a 5-1-1 record in its last seven at Capital Centre. It has made things easier for everybody and, Rowe said, "The fans were getting on us, because they expected us to win here. It made the guys really tight. We've loosened up a lot the last couple of weeks."
Inness, a formidable figure in the nets, has been the key figure in the turnabout, passing confidence along to his teammates.
Last night, with the game scoreless, Inness came far out of the net to force Dan Labraaten out of range on a dangerous three-on-one break. Moments after Sirois scored, Inness managed to get his stick on a wide-open shot by Dan Bolduc and the puck, on edge, rolled just wide of the post.
With the score still 1-0, Inness stopped a Dale McCourt drive that hit his mask-protected right temple, stunning him briefly. Then he went down to make a save on Reed Larson, who had split the defense, and Gord Lane steered Lochead's rebound wide.
"Detroit was playing well, getting better chances," said Washington Coach Danny Belisle, who compared the grand finale to his movie role in "Slap Shot." "Thank God for a couple of goal posts and good goaltending. That's what it's all about."