While the Minnesota North Stars were congratulating themselves on pulling out a last-minute the yesterday, Bob Sirois stole the game for the Washington Capitals.
Sirois' second goal of the game, with 13 seconds remaining, lifted the Capitals into a 5-4 victory, to the delight of those fans among the Capital Centre crowd of 10,104 who had not left a minute earlier with a winning feeling.
The North Stars pulled goalie Gilles Meloche for a sixth skater with 66 seconds remaining, then with 35 seconds on the clock Glen Sharpley took the puck away from Washington's Robert Picard. Sharpley's quick pass to Mike Fidler in front was converted into Fidler's second goal on a drive off the shoulder of goalie Gary Inness, tying the game at 4-4.
There were hung heads in white and upraised arms in green and then the puck was dropped again and the North Stars tried to pass it around the boards behind their goal. Sirois grabbed the puck with his glove in the right-wing corner, tossed it ahead, skated into the slot and put it past Meloche for his 28th goal.
The resulting celebration was so enthusiastic that Inness had to restrain himself from crossing the red line to join in.
"I was so happy, I almost skated across, but I stopped just in time," Inness said of his near technical rules violation. "We needed those two points. Minnesota is a team we really have to catch."
Sirois was sick in Vancouver on Friday and played horribly. Coach Danny Belisle, unaware of Sirois' respiratory and digestive problems, called him over before yesterday's game and gave him a pep talk.
"He told me we had a terrible night and he wanted our line to get going today," Sorois said. "I gues he didn't know I was sick. I was throwing up before the (Vancouver) game and I couldn't sleep the night before. I feel better today; at least I'm not coughing as much."
Sirois was involved in four of Washington's five goals, with most of the plays starting near the boards, where he is a master at slipping checks and retaining possession of the puck.
"Bobby is one hell of a corner guy," said Linemate Guy Charron, who collected his 200th NHL goal at 8:56 of the final period to give Washington a 4-3 lead.
"His first goal, he came out of the corner to make the play. Every night it's always the same effort from him and Ryan (Walter). That's why our line has been a plus for so long now."
The Capitals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Picard, his 17th, and former North Star Dennis Maruk, his 25th. But Minnesota reversed the momentum in the second period and halved the lead on rookie Bob Smith's 28th goal.
With Minnesota enjoying an 8-1 edge in shots over the first eight minutes, the Capitals were in deep trouble. But Sirois came out of the corner and shot, Charron fired a rebound and Sirois' second rebound eluded Meloche.
Minnesota pulled even in the first minue of the third period, Fidler and Sharpley taking advantage of penalties to Dennis Hextall and Maruk for power-play scores.
Again, Sirois struck back. Digging the puck free along the left-wing boards, Sirois made a backhand pass to Walter, whose shot was blocked by Meloche. Charron netted the rebound.
"If let the defenseman take the man on me, but I keep the puck," Sirois said. "I bounce away and stay in the play and when Ryan yelled, I gave it to him."
Sirois received assistance from Charron and Walter on his winning goal, after Picard's giveaway had the fans gnashing their teeth. Charron put an armlock on defenseman Greg Smith, who was otherwise a Minnesota hero, leaving open ice for Sirois to maneuver.
Walter was stationed just outside the crease and Meloche was forced to pay attention to him, permitting Sirois to get off his winning shot.
"Their defenseman (Gary Sargent) threw the puck around the boards and I catch it and throw it on the ice," Sirois said. "Then I almost pass the puck to Ryan, but Gil moved a little bit toward Ryan and when I saw him move I threw the puck on him and it went in. It was a lucky goal."
It was a disastrous defeat for the North Stars, struggling to reach the playoffs, and Coach Glen Sonmor said, "We have a lot of guys who are so concerned with scoring they forget the other end of the rink. It's a lot of fun to score goals and be involved in them, but it's hard work to prevent goals. A lack of awareness of defense is getting us in trouble."
The Capitals will need to play better defensively tonight against the Montreal Canadiens at 8:05 in the Capital Centre. Washington's record of futility against the Stanley Cup champions is legend (0-28-1), but the Capitals, owners of 20 victories and 50 points this season, are not without hope.
"We'll be on the ice," Sirois said. "The score is zero-zero right now. We have to beat Montreal if we want to be in the playoffs. They may be the best team, but they're in the same league. One victory out of eight games ought to be possible."
"This was quite a lift for us today," Charron said."That tying goal put a lot of mental stress on us. We had to be saying, "What do we have to do to win a hockey game? And then we won it."