It happens every April. The Pittsburgh Penguins come to Capital Centre and play like pigeons.
For the fifth straight year, the Washington Capitals posted an April victory over Pittsburgh yesterday, this time by a 5-2 score that completed the most successful season in Cap history with 63 points in the National Hockey League standings.
Members of the Penguins Fan Club contributed inexcusable boorishness at the outset of the proceedings by repeatedly disrupting the rendition of the national anthem. Then the Pittsburgh team prepared for the Stanley Cup playoffs by making very possible maneuver to avoid physical contact.
If Capital fans are preparing to demand a 20 percent rebate on season tickets from Washington management, the 10,572 in attendance yesterday probably deserve a refund from Pittsburgh.
"The main thing was not to get hurt," conceded goalie Denis Herron. "The game did not mean much to us. We could only get home ice in the playoffs if Colorado beat Buffalo tonight and we knew there was no chance of that. So we just played the game to finish the game and not get hurt."
The Penguins were unable to avert bumps and bruises totally, because Capitals Ryan Walter, Yvon Labre, Pierre Bouchard and Paul Mulvey were anxious to bang a few bodies.
Walter also scored two goals, for a season total of 28 (a Capital rookie record), and now heads to Moscow for the world championships with numerous teammates while the folks back home count the rookie-of-the-year ballots. He should collect plenty.
Bouchard's debut, awaited for so long, drew rave notices.
The 31-year-old defenseman had trouble catching his breath on occasion but he played capably-blocking shots, clearing the puck, taking the body when necessary. In the final period, the longtime Montreal Canadien earned applause each time he left the ice.
"The wind was difficult-I didn't expect to do that much at the beginning," Bouchard said. "But Leif (Svensson) handled the puck so well, I let him skate and I concentrated on defense. When you play once a year, you have to make it a good one."
Bouchard said his plans depend on upcoming conversations with General Manager Max McNab. If Coach Danny Belisle has a voice in the ultimate decision, Bouchard will be back for game on in the fall.
"He had a hard time physically and he was huffing and puffing on the bench," Belisle said, "but he showed us a lot of character and drive. If we have him next year, he'll make a difference out there. Young defensemen sometimes try to do too much to be spectacular, and they get burned. Bouchard showed everybody you don't need to be spectacular to get the job done."
The game's few spectacular plays were provided by Chuck Arnason, Guy Charron and Svensson, each resulting in a Washington goal.
After Mark Lofthouse's rebound put the Caps ahead to stay, Arnason hustled down the ice to corral Rick Green's long clearing attempt before it could become an icing violation. Then Arnason swept behind the net and centered the puck out front to Dennis Hextall for a 2-0 lead.
After Pittsburgh's fifth shot in 27 minutes reduced the margin, Charron stole a Greg Malone pass at the red line and beat Herron on a breakaway for his 28th goal and a 3-1 lead.
The Penguins retaliated once more before Svensson made the play of the game.
Keeping the puck in the Pittsburgh zone at the blue line he skated down the left side and circled the net. After drawing two defenders in his direction, he sent a perfect pass to Walter, left unguarded in front. Goal, Capitals.
Svensson later set up Walter for the finale.
Arnason limped off with only eight seconds left in the season, after his left skate became tangled with another, but he suffered only a minor ankle sprain.
Before the game, awards were presented to Robert Picard as management's choice for most valuable Capital and the media's pick as best defenseman; to Walter as the players' selection for best rookie; to Tom Rowe and Gord Lane as their teammates' picks for most improved, and to Dennis Maruk for leading in scoring (90 points) and three-star selections. CAPTION: Picture, Paul Mulvey, 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, slams into goal support on a Washington offensive move against Pittsburgh and Penguins Denis Herron (masked) and George Ferguson probably can feel tremors.
By Gerald Martineau-The Washington Post