Before tonight's game with the Washington Capitals, disgruntled fans hoisted a sign that read "Welcome to the Home of the Dead Wings." It was quickly torn down and then the Detroit Red Wings refuted the contents by winning one of the liveliest games seen at Olympia in a long time.
The Washington Capitals were the victims of the Wings' revival, their five-game unbeaten streak disappearing among an avalanche of penalties that fueled the NHL's most productive power play. Detroit netted four goals in extra-man situations and punished the Capitals, 7-4.
The Detroit fans, accustomed to ridiculing the home club, instead turned their nasty dispositions on the Capitals and the officials, showering debris on both ice and players' bench. Washington's Tom Rowe had to be restrained from pursuing a spectator late in the game and police ringed the Washington bench without completely halting the bombardment.
Referee Alf Lejeune received verbal abuse, besides showers of junk, by allowing a controversial goal by Washington's Blair Stewart that temporarily tied the game at 3-3 midway through the second period. Then, with Detroit ahead, 5-3, Lejeune ruled that an apparent Red Wing goal by Andre St. Laurent had been deflected into the net with a high stick.
The usual sellout crowd of 14,113 appeared, despite the Wings' ability to win only one of their last 17 games. This time they were treated to a more spirited effort by the home club.
The Wings came out hitting and drew the first of the game's 31 penalties before the first minute had ended. But helping to kill it was defenseman Terry Harper, the former team captain who had been exiled to Kansas City two months ago with a vow by General Manager Ted Kindsay that he would never return. A 9-27-14 record forced Lindsay to eat those words and Harper returned today, to provide needed inspiration.
Still, the Capitals scored first, as Ron Lalonde, a bench warmer for the last four games, earned his first goal of the season. It came with Washington reduced to three skaters, against Detroit's four, following penalties to Dennis Maruk for tripping and Rick Green for cross-checking.
Lalonde won a faceoff from Dale McCourt in the Washington end, took a quick return pass from Robert Picard and broke free on a breakway, flipping a backhander over the outstretched stick of diving goalie Rogie Vachon. The sensational score brought the entire Washington team out to offer congratulations.
Washington was two men down when Picard hooked St. Laurent down to break up a two-on-one rush, so his penalty had to be delayed. Thommie Bergman's blast from the left point then enabled the full-strength Wings to become the first NHL team to reach the 50 mark in power-play goals.
The Capitals killed off 68 more seconds of a two-man shortage and only nine seconds remained in Picard's delayed sentence when Detroit's Dan Bolduc broke out of his end so quickly that Green lost his balance and was unable to halt what resulted in a breakaway score and a 2-1 Detroit lead.
Washington pulled even early in the second period on Bob Girard's first shot on goal in 12 games. Lalonde won a feaceoff in the Detroit end and drew the puck to Girard, who managed to beat Bachon on the glove side despite a two-man defensive sandwich.
A Washington power play backfired into the eighth shorthanded score against the Capitals as Picard made a bad pass out of the corner to the left of goalie Gary Inness.McCourt deflected the puck to Paul Woods, who drilled it past Inness from close range.
"That goal was a killer," said Washington Coach Danny Belisle.
The Capitals knotted the score again as Stewart, pulled down from behind by defenseman Reed Larson, carried the puck into the Detroit net with him, touching off a protest demonstration by both Wings and fans.
"All I can remember is my feet were taken out from under me and as I slid into the crease I could feel the puck against my shin," Stewart said. "I didn't kick it in or put it in with my hand or anything."
Just 2 1/2 minutes later, the home folks were happy again. Vaclav Nedomansky's pass from the right-wing boards was swept into the net by McCourt before Gord Lane could react. It was the only one of Detroit's seven goals scored under normal circumstances.
Before the second period ended, Bergman blasted a 45-foot shot off Inness' glove for a 5-3 lead. Three Capitals chased Willie Huber along the right-wing boards and his pass left Bergman open for the power-play blast.
Early in the third period, the Wings' extra-man setup clicked for the 53rd time, Perry Miller netting a rebound of Medomansky's drive off the goal post.
When Washington's Ryan Walter trimmed the margin to 6-4 on his 21st goal, a rebound of a Guy Charron blue-line blast with 11 minutes left, there were murmurings from fans who had seen the Wings blow so many leads. But this time there was nothing to fear but the fans themselves.
Greg Polis suffered a bruised left thigh when he was checked hard by Huber, but he promised that he would be in uniform Wednesday night, when the Capitals close out their finest month in history (8-5-1 so far) against the Los Angeles Kings at Capital Centre at 7:30.