The St. Louis Blues scored four consecutive goals after Errol Rause tied the game in the first period and went on to defeat the Washington Capitals, 5-1, tonight in the Checkerdome.
Bernie Federko scored a goal and assisted on two others for the Blues. The Caps' record fell to 5-19-5, worst in the National Hockey League.
Seeking their first point on the road since tying Quebec on Nov. 25, the Caps ran into an inspired St. Louis Blues team. Early this afternoon, Barclay Plager resigned as the St. Louis coach and Assistant Coach Red Berenson was behind the Blues' bench.
Plager has missed four games earlier this season because of a stomach disorder, but has given no indication that he was about to resign before today's terse announcement.
"Blues' Coach Barclay Plager has tendered his resingnation and it has been accepted," announced Emile Francis, president and general manager of the Clubs.
Apparently, though, the decision to resign was Plager's alone. He said he felt the team had more talent than its 8-16-4 record indicated and that he was not doing the job of motivating the team. He said the Blues were able to get themselves up for the top clubs in the National Hockey League, but he couldn't do the job to get them ready for the lesser clubs.
The Caps, certainly a lesser club, were the first test for Berneson's motivational talents.
Although Francis said no decision has been reached as to Plager's permanent successor, Berenson certainly is in the running.
So, when the Caps skated onto the ice here at the Checkerdome tonight, they skated into a hornet's nest.
In a wide-open first period, the Blues took a 2-1 lead as Chuck Lefley and Blair Chapman put the puck behind Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson, who looked like a duck in a shooting gallery for most of the first 20 minutes.
The Blues sent 14 shots his way and the two that got by him were almost impossible to stop.
Lefley, who hadn't scored an NHL goal since April 2, 1977, took a pass from Neil Komadoski on the right, swept the puck away from Rick Green at the blueline and sent a sizzling shot past a helpless Stephenson. That came eight minutes into the game.
Lefley retired from the NHL two years ago and played one year in Finland and one year in West Germany before deciding on a comeback this year. He suffered a separated shoulder in the preseason, though, and tonight's game was just his fourth this season.
The Caps tied the game on a goal by Errol Rause, who picked up the "gimme" after St. Louis goalie Mike Liut kicked out a slap shot by Lief Svensson. Liut got his stick on the hard shot, but sent it right to Rause, who slapped it back into the net.
St. Louis then took a 2-1 lead, thanks to a nifty pass by center Bernie Federko, who slipped a pass between two Caps to Chapman. He breezed in alone on Stephenson and scored easily.
The Blues made it 3-1 early in the second period when Federko again cut through the Washington defense with a dazzling pass to Brian Sutter, who skated in alone on Stephenson and scored.
At 16:01 of the period, Federko got his third point of the night. This time, he scored the goal and Butter got the assist. Sutter and Ed Kea pummeled the puck at a stunned Stephenson from in close and Federko got his stick on it in front of the goal mouth and stuffed it into the corner of the net.
Federko's goal was his 11th of the season and his two assists give him 22 for the year.
The Caps' best opportunity of the second period came at the buzzer. Robert Picard sent a slap shot at Liut, who kicked it out with a diving stop. Mark Lofthouse and Ryan Walter tried to get sticks on the loose puck as the buzzer sounded with Liut sprawled on the ice out of position.