In 29 meetins with the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals could not produce a victory. Last night they turned the task to the Hershey Bears -- and earned their second tie.
Ryan Walter's third-period goal, on an assist by Jack Lynch, created the final score of 2-2. When it came, though, almost 14 1/2 minutes remained, and for those 14 1/2 minutes the Capitals dug and scrapped and fought both to keep the Canadiens off the board and to win it themselves.
If they got only half a loaf, it still tasted better than the usual result of a struggle with the Stanley Cup champions. Asked if he would like to play overtime, Washington Coach Danny Belisle said, "No, I'll take the point and run."
The No. 1 star was goalie Jim Bedard, making his first NHL appearance since Dec. 27 and returning from two months' exile in Hershey. He had help from four other players who were wearing Hershey uniforms Saturday, as infuries and illness cut down defensemen Rick Green and Yvon Labre, winger Bob Girard and golies Bernie Wolfe and Gary Inness. Winger Greg Polis had been infured Friday, so the Capitals were asking a lot of farmhands to grin and Bear it.
"That could have been a factor, a lot of guys figuring they had all to gain and nothing to lose," Belisle said. "The guys seemed so relaxed this time. Usually we press and try so hard against Montreal that it works against us."
Bedard had played for Hershey Sunday night in Rochester and was beaten, 6-3, but he had a ready-made excuse. Hershey Coach Fred Stanfield had told him before the game he was heading for Washington.
"I guess he learned a lesson," Bedard said. "He should have waited. I couldn't think of anything else the whole game. There was nothing else on my mind but coming back here. I just wanted to do well, to come back and help this team. It's a good confidence builder for me."
Bedard had to stop only 25 shots last night, as his teammates checked well most of the night and made a minimum of mistakes. His biggest save came with 10 minutes left, as the Canadiens' Mario Tremblay took the puck away from Robert Picard in the Montreal end and led a three-on-one break. Tremblay wound up shooting and Bedard came up big.
"That was the big one," Belisle said. "It was a funny played game and there weren't many shots, but it was a pretty tough test for Jimmy. We had no choice anyhow, but we had intended to bring him back. He looked sure of himself. He was handling the puck well, shooting it out. He looked confident. Maybe it's a good omen where he's concerned, too."
Bedard stopped seven Montreal shots in the first 5 1/2 minutes, then Guy Charron took the puck away from the Canadiens' Guy Lapointe at the Montreal bule line and went in to score his 24th goal on Washington's first shot. Goalie Ken Dryden drove to try to poke the puck off Charron's stick and missed.
When Lynch was chased for holding Doug Risebrough, a ruling that Lynch disputed with referee Ron Wicks, Pierre Larouche capitalized to pull Montreal even. Yvon Lambert passed from the left-wing boards to Larouche in the left-wing circle and Larouche faked Picard to the ice, went around him and easily beat Bedard.
"I thought that was an awful cheap penalty," Lynch said. "I maybe did grasp him a bit, but I didn't hold him flagrantly. I had one hand on the stick and I was just using the other one to keep him off the puck. A cheap penalty so early and their scoring on it, that could have had our doggers down the rest of the game."
The Capitals did not quit, however, even when Tremblay carried the puck out of traffic in center ice and whipped a 55-foot shot over Bedard's left shoulder. It was 2-1 and almost 47 minutes remained, but Montreal would not score again.
The second period was without event and a lot of television sets along the NHL network probably were switched to more exciting fare. But the fact they were able to hold the Canadiens even lifted the Capitals' spirits considerably.
"There was a feeling in here after that second period that if we were ever going to beat them, tonight was the night," Lynch said. "Walter and young (Gary) Rissling were chirping all the time."
Walter missed an open net on an excellent opportunity and the Canadiens tried to clear the puck. But Lynch, pinching deep on the right-wing boards, intercepted the clearing pass and sent a perfect feed to Walter just outside the crease.
"You have to take a chance," Lynch said. "We were down 2-1. Danny told me that when I go to pinch in like that, not to shoot so hard that it goes around behind the net. I've been getting excited in that situation and shooting too hard. Now I'm just trying to keep it in front of the net."
If Belisle was willing to settle for a tie, so were the Canadiens.
"They played three solid periods," said Montreal's Steve Shutt. "We're happy with the tie. Usually, they take the lead early and let up and we beat them, but they didn't let up tonight. Both teams found out early it was going to be a low-scoring game and they didn't want to give many chances."
Besides Bedard, the Capitals called up defenseman Brent Tremblay and forwards Ron Lalonde and Doug Patey from Hershey for this game. They joined Rissling, who came up Sunday after Polis sprained his right knee.
Green bruised his left shoulder Sunday, Labre and Wolfe were idled by pulled groin muscles and Girard was forced out by flu. Inness dressed and could have played, but he was bothered by a sore leg and assorted bruises.
The Capitals extended their unbeaten streak to four games and established a one-season club record of 225 goals, one more than they scored two years ago.
Belisle was speaking with some difficulty, caused not by the excitement buy by an eight-stitch cut inflicted when a puck clipped him above the upper lip in practive yesterday. He allowed as how eight stitches was a reasonable price for a point against the champs.