The Washington Capitals survived an Olympian pain in the neck tonight. Dennis Maruk's goal with 34 seconds remaining carried the Capitals to a 5-4 exhibition success over a U.S. Olympic hockey team that desperately wanted to win one from a National Hockey League club.
Another Washington hero was goalie Wayne Stephenson, who stopped 27 shots as well as a jab in the left eye. Stephenson was struck in a pileup with 5:40 remaining and lay on the ice at least five minutes before he rose and completed his appointed 60-minute task.
"It was a skate or a stick," Stephenson said afterward. "It his my mask and the mask poked me in the eyeball. I couldn't see at all while I was on the ice, but it's better now."
For the last two periods, about all Stephenson could see were American forwards buzzing around his net. After the Capitals built a 3-0 lead in the first period, the Olympic team surged back, taking advantage of the wider ice surface (approximately 100 feet, rather than the usual 85) to score four times.
Except for Stephenson's excellent work and a questionable offside call that nullified a three-on-nobody Olympic score, it would have been out of sight.
Just as they twice rallied to tie and defeat the Canadian Olympic team, the Capitals called on their pride to pull them out this time. Stephenson stopped a breakaway by Eric Strobel and then some digging by Maruk set up Greg Polis for a tying score with 4:11 remaining.
Stephenson, following his ordeal, foiled Mike Eruizone on the finish of some superb passing with Strobel. Dave Christian shot wide after a Capital giveaway and suddenly the Olympians were out of chances.
Robert Picard sent a rather inaccurate pass from the left point toward the slot, where it was fumbled by the Olympians' Neal Broten. The puck trickled to Maruk and he fired a back-hander past goalie Steve Janaszak.
The victory permitted the Capitals to close preseason play with a 7-2-1 record, their best ever. Most important to most of them, however, was the fact that they no longer are faced with these contests in which they have so little to gain.
"I really question playing these teams," said Coach Danny Belisle. "I'd rather be playing NHL teams for the proper preparation. I don't think we're getting real benefit from these games.
"They buzz around and pass and we're not used to that kind of style. They just disorganize you and you wind up playing their style. If that game really meant something and if we were fresh, I'd be upset. But it's been a long preseason and we traveled today after playing last night. You have to consider that."
Guy Charron, who scored the second Washington goal, operated at left wing on a line with Rolf Edberg at center and Bengt Gustafsson at right wing. It could be a preview of a big switch Monday, when the center and defense-heavy club reduces its numbers by seven or eight players.