In Sweden, they call Rolf Edberg "the rat." In Vancouver Friday night, a lot of folks were shouting "rats" and worse, as Edberg scored two goals and set up two others to lead the Washington Capitals to a 6-2 rout of the struggling Canucks.
Edberg has been a defensive wizard as a center for Washington -- on ice for only three opposition goals in the last 28 games -- but his offensive contributions have been minimal, in part due to inept work by a variety of wingers.
Suddenly on Friday Edberg was tossed onto left wing alongside Dennis Maruk and Tom Rowe, after Greg Polis suffered a sprained right knee. Although that knee required surgery a year ago and it stiffened up Friday night, forcing Polis to limp noticeably yesterday, the Vancouver physicians who examined Polis did not consider it serious.
Maruk and Rowe brought out something new in Edberg, and he brought out the best in them -- their first plus game in the last eight. Additionally, Rowe scored a goal for the fifth straight game to tie Ryan Walter's club record and Maruk collected two assists to match Guy Charron's season mark of 46.
"The first thing I think about is keeping the other team from scoring against us, and you always get your own chances," Edberg said. "That's the way I've played for 10 years. I've tried to play even, and I've been even the last five games, so this time I told myself to be better than even.
"It was easy to skate this game. When it's easy to skate, I get many chances. I've been more relaxed the last few games."
"I know we can find a couple of people to play with Edberg," said General Manager Max McNab, who wants to keep the Swede at center. "He's got so many moves. He literally dominated games in the world tournament."
Rowe was unaware of his record, saying, "I don't keep track anymore. The last time I got four, I choked. So I don't even look at it. At the start of the season based on last year, I was hoping for 17 or 20 goals. When I got to 20, I figured I should make 25. Now that I'm at 25, I don't want to stop there.
"The big thing, though, is winning. (Coach) Danny (Belisle) had us playing differently, because we've been scored on so much, and it worked out. Denny (Maruk) was covering the points and I was in the corners more. I found myself stopping a few pucks from going in the net, too."
The game was not enjoyable for the majority of the 12,944 fans -- 3,000 below capacity -- in Pacific Coliseum and they made their dissatisfaction evident. It was an unexpected pleasure, however, for two people named Mulvey from Merritt, British Columbia.
Paul Mulvey, recalled from Hershey a week ago after a two-month exile, collected two goals, his first since Oct. 25, and said, "My mom and dad drove in 180 miles to see this and it really makes me feel good. I worked hard in Hershey and I intend to work hard here. I'm bumping in the corners -- that's my game -- and I'm finally holding onto the puck in the corners."
Defenseman Jack Lynch scored his first goal of the season and celebrated with a few extra twists on his maribou stork routine. It was in Vancouver Dec. 13, 1977, that he suffered a severe knee injury, requiring surgery and a long, difficult recuperative period.
"The guys told me it was like coming home," Lynch said. "I'm glad to play a good (plus three) game like that anywhere, though. It's been a long time."
With Vancouver trailing, 5-2, early in the final period, the Canuck's Ron Sedlbauer, a 36-goal scorer this season, was awarded a penalty shot after he was hooked down from behind by Yvon Labre. Sedlbauer hit the crossbar behind Gary Inness, marking his third straight miss in such circumstances, while the Capitals have permitted only two scores in 10 penalty shots over five years. Jim Bedard foiled Montreal's Jacques Lemaire earlier this season.
The Capitals' second victory in 35 visits to Canada ended a seven-game winless streak and sent them on yesterday's transcontinental trip back to Washington in high spirits. They are ready to tackle the Minnesota North Stars today at 1:30 in Capital Centre, where the Capitals have lost five in a row.
Washington, 10-16-4 at home and 9-18-6 on the road, are 7-4-1 west of the Mississippi, which provides one more bit of evidence for Belisle, who contends, "a lot of things about this game are just unexplainable."