The Washington Capitals took a 10-game winless streak into yesterday's contest with Quebec. What a surprise the team's hard core of fans received from No. 11!
Right wing Mike Gartner, who wears that number on his back, scored three goals in the third period as Washington shattered a 2-2 deadlock with a record-tying five scores and won skating away, 7-2, for Coach Gary Green's first victory.
For awhile, however, that dark cloud hovering over Capital Centre seemed reluctant to blow away. Before the game, defenseman Gord Lane walked out on the team.
When, while Washington built a 2-0 lead in the first 23 minutes, two more players departed with injuries. Center Guy Charron limped off with an aggravation of a pulled thigh muscle and winger Bob Sirois felt another sharp pain in his aggravating back muscles. Neither will be available for tonight's game in Buffalo.
Then the 2-0 margin evaporated in just 29 seconds. The Nordiques took advantage of a hooking penalty on Gartner for one score and hit again after Michel Goulet outskated the Capitals' Robert Picard to turn a potential icing violation into a tying goal.
So it was back to the dressing room and some hard thoughts. In the eight nonvictories under Green, the Capitals had produced only two goals in the final periods. The ingredients for collapse were present again.
"There was no way in the world we were going to lose this one," Gartner said."We dug down deep and played a great period. We went out and stuck together and this time we were rewarded. It meant a lot. It really lifts our spirits up."
"We started all over agin," Green said. "We repeated word for word what was said before the game -- hit, skate, and shoot. Play disciplined and wait for them to make mistakes, then capitalize on them. We had played 35 minutes of good hockey, then broke down for five minutes. We needed everybody to pull together again and they did."
Tom Rowe produced the tie-breaking score, but not at the time most of the 6,892 fans thought he did. Rowe, loose on a breakaway, shattered his stick in a collision with Quebec goalie Goran Hogosta and the blade wound up in the net, to resounding cheers. The puck, however, stayed out.
Undaunted, Rowe later took a long pass from defenseman Rick Green and fired a drive over Hogosta's right pad for his ninth goal of the season at 3:39.
Gartner made it 5-3 at 5:02, accepting Wes Jarvis' long pass and firing from the right-wing circle. Gartner had hit posts and seen the puck carom out nine times this season, while he scored only three goals in 22 games. This one hit the post and went in.
"When this shot hit the post and went inside instead of outside, I knew something was happening out there," Gartner said.
He had no idea what would eventually happen, though. Linemate Jarvis grabbed the spotlight next by stealing the puck from defender Paul Baxter and beating Hogosta on the short side at 7:59.
Gartner turned thief 28 seconds later, poking the puck away from defenseman Dale Hoganson. Jarvis got it and Gartner converted his return pass.
Then, at 14:45, Gartner sent a centering pass from behind the net that struck defenseman Gerry Hart's skate and caromed into the net.
"That was a fluke," Gartner said. "It hit his skate and went in. It was lucky. Yeah, I guess I was due some luck. I can't promise that will happen all the time, but I can promise that the team and myself will put out 110 percent every game. If we do, we should win our share."
While the Capitals and Gartner were tying team records for goals in a period, rookie Jarvis was matching another with four points in a period. A 14th-round draft pick in 1978, Jarvis had only two in seven previous games.
"There has been a lot of pressure on all the guys," Jarvis said. "The first four games up I didn't feel it, then it hit me, too. This was a break-through for the whole team, not just me. We were just having fun out there."
Green, winning his first NHL game after 17 days and nine tries, took it in stride.
"We still have the same problem we can't overcome," Green said. "That's injuries. We're in worse shape personnelwise than we were the other night. But it is great to win and we had to break the ice, to give them confidence. When you're teaching, you need reinforcement and in hockey that only comes through winning."