For 45 minutes tonight, the injury-depleated Washington Capitals battled the Buffalo Sabres on even terms. Then Buffalo's Richard Martin put a pair of pucks past Wayne Stephenson and the Sabres had a 2-0 victory and a sweep of the four-game season series with Washington.
The Capitals were able to dress only 17 men, two fewer than the maximum, and they were a weary group by that third period. Martin netted his two goals and Buffalo rifled eight shots at Stephenson before Washington could the Buffalo's Bob Sauve the first time the 8 1/2-minute mark.
"We didn't have the same zip and we weren't hitting as well in the third period," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "We were tired. We hoped to overcome our tiredness by being alert mentally, but they came out flying."
When the Sabres fly, they take a lot of catching, Buffalo now has won five in a row and eight of its last nine.Only streaking Philadelphia has more points in the NHL.
Still, there was hope that Washington's newly found good fortune night win out after Martin, set up alone in front by teammate Lindy Ruff's adroit pass early in the third period, shot wide of the post. On his next two chances, however, Martin did not miss.
After Jim Schoonfield's extra effort kept the puck in the Washington end, John Van Boxmeer fired from the right point, Martin deflected the puck past Stephenson at 5:10.
Washington's Mike Gartner was chased for holding Ruff and Martin capitalized 52 seconds later, at 7:03. Slipping free among Washington defenders, he took Gil Perrcault's pass and beat Stephenson from the slot for his 13th goal.
Despite the result, Stephenson was selected as the game's No. 1 star. He made 23 saves to 20 for Cauve, who was postings his third shutout of the season and earned no star recognition.
The Capitals had few good scoring chances, with most of them coming during a three-minute segment in which Perrcault served his extra portion of a dual slashing encounter with Washington's Robert Picard.
Perrcault received a major, Picard a minor early in the second period They went nose to nose --" A couple of French noses are something to see," Picard said -- and exchanged words frequently thereafter.
"He came around the net and I slashed him," Picard said. "He let me have a two-hander on the left arm. He told me he was sorry, that he never hit anybody like that. I told him if I got the chance I'd let him have it.
"He's their best player. If you give him a couple of shots, he'll get mad and take a penalty. That helps us. But that arm will be sore tomorrow."
Paul Mulvey's chin will be sore, too. During the Perreault power play, a slap shot by Greg Theberge caromed off Schoenfeld's stick and struck Mulvey in the chin, requiring 10 stitches. Then, while Mulvey was being treated on the bench, another puck just missed head.
"I never did see it, I didn't have time to move," said Mulvey, who was jamming the slot when he was struck. "And not a second later, they almost got me on the bench. That's how the luck goes.
"I'm fortunate it wasn't a more tender spot, though. We don't need another guy out. While I was down, Tom Rowe was yelling at me, 'Get up, you're all right.'"
Another injury might prove unbearable. Washington was missing Guy Charron and Bob Sirois, who aggravated old injuries during Saturday's 7-2 victory over Quebec. Gord Lane was home, too, in self-imposed "retirement."
Errol Rause returned today from Hershey, but Steve Clippingdale was dispatched in his place to a farm club so decimated by injuries and capital recalls that broadcaster J.D. Mathers dressed for a recent game.