Gary Inness walked up to Greg Polis in the Washington Capitals' dressing room tonight, shook his hand and said, "Good game, buddy."
"Great game, Gary," Polis replied.
Goalie Inness and left wing Polis, who started their NHL careers in Pittsburgh and eventually came to the Washington Capitals for a total investment of $100, looked like a million bucks on their return to the Steel City.
Inness blocked 37 Pittsburgh shots and was named the No. 1 star. Polis doubled his season goal total by scoring two and was chosen No. 3 star as the Capitals whipped the Penguins, 5-2, for their fourth victory in the last five games.
This was the seventh road success of the season for Washington, tying the club record, and it maintained a realistic opportunity of achieving a playoff berth.
Guy Charron also collected two goals, running his season total to 16, and Dennis Maruk added his 15th.
But it was Inness who was the difference. The only shots that got past him were fired by Peter Lee, one a deflection with Pittsburgh a man up, the other a rebound with the Penguins enjoying a two-man advantage.
There was an anxious moment early in the third period when Lee swept over the blue line, received a pass and seemed headed for a hat trick.Defenseman Rick Green, trying to ride Lee off the puck, crashed into Inness, who had gone down to block the shot. Green sailed into the net. Inness lay still.
"I could just imagine losing both of them," said Coach Danny Belisle. "If they hadn't gotten up, I would have just called Philly and seen if the Firebirds had a job for me."
They eventually rose, although Inness collapsed on his first attempt, and both finished the game.
"I was tired and a little woozy," Inness said. "I don't know what happened, but I must have snapped my head back on the ice."
Inness had one fine year in Pittsburgh, 1974-75, when he was named the team's unsung hero, then he was infrequently used and eventually traded in 1976 to Philadelphia. Tonight's game was the first time he had played in the Civic Arena since he left.
"I was disappointed over my last year here the way things were handled." Inness said. "There was a bit of personality clash between myself and (general manager) Wren Blair and (coach) Marc Boileau. But it doesn't matter that much about what building I'm playing in. I like to win and I hate losing even more, no matter where it is."
Polis opened the scoring at 3:47 of the first period, converting a marvelous pass from Rolf Edberg on a shot Polis described as "like hitting the ocean from the end of the pier." Maruk scored off a Gary Rissling setup 17 seconds later and the Capitals stayed in front to the finish.
"This really makes me feel good," said Polis, who batted in his own rebound in the second period for a 4-1 lead, "I had a couple tough seasons in Pittsburgh. (Coach Red) Kelly was on my back and people thought everything Kelly said was gospel.
"I shut up, but the fans got on me and they were on me tonight. When everybody's yelling and swearing at you, it's nice to be able to point up to the scoreboard and show them it's 5-2."
The members of the Washington Capitals Fan Club who bused here for the game were having fun, too, chanting things like "One-two-three-four, we want more."
For the majority of the 14,699 observers, however, it was a tough night. There were fights between fans and police, and debris was scattered on the ice.
Dave Schultz, the fans' hero, departed in the third period after a stickswinging incident with Yvon Labre. That was the final touch of disappointment for the fans, who chanted "Bring Schultz back."
Labre hooked Schultz under the arm, then Schultz waved his stick in Labre's direction. When Schultz learned he had received a major penalty for spearing, he went berserk, tearing away from linesman Swede Knox in a vain attempt to get at Labre.
Schultz has been penalized 97 minutes this season and 67 have come in games against Washington.
Charron, playing his 236th straight NHL game, tripped and fell in the first period, twisting his left knee. However, he was able to continue and netted a rebound of a Robert Picard drive to make the score 3-1.
In the final period, after Tom Bladon had shot over the net on a clear breakaway, Labre retrieved the puck and fed Charron for a game-clinching breakaway at the other end. Charron afterward was able to laugh about his first-period mishap.
"The puck was behind me and I shifted my weight and the knee twisted under me," Charron said."There must be something about getting hurt that inspires me. I banged my head on the ice against Boston and wound up with a hat trick."