This is the time of year for miracles and one occurred last night at Capital Centre. Trailing 4-0, after two periods, the Washington Capitals rose up with five goals in the third and shocked the Stanley Cup finalist New York Rangers, 5-4.
Paul Mulvey scored the winner with 5:14 left on a deflection of a shot by Mike Kaszycki. Earlier, Rick Green, Wes Jarvis, Mike Gartner and Rolf Edberg had connected to turn a silent-as-a-mouse turnout of 12,068 into a clattering frenzy.
Two months ago, the Capitals posted their first victory of the season over the Rangers. Last night, in their 31st game, the Capitals were winning for only the sixth time, but the incredible comeback stirred hopes that this was the beginning of a second and far better season.
"I hope and I'm confident that this will be the turning point," said Gartner, the game's No. 1 star. I really feel we'll start to win. We have confidence in (Coach) Gary's (Green) system and confidence in each other."
With a 4-0 deficit, one would have expected the crowd second largest of the season, to be heckling the Capitals. Surprisingly, the fans chose to sit back quietly and wait for something positive to cheer about.
"I was really surprised when they stayed with us down 4-0," Gartner said. "Maybe we proved to them when we fought back from 5-2 against Minnesota and lost, 5-4, that we don't quit.
"I know one thing. I've never been on a team before that came back from 4-0 in the third period to win. Usually you're just trying to make it respectable. But when we came out it was almost like we knew we'd win. And after Jarvis' goal, you could feel it on the bench. There was no way we were going to lose."
Rick Green connected on a 35-footer that struck the goal post and caromed behind Ranger goalie John Davidson. It was the kind of shot that usually winds up staying out for the Capitals. But in this period the Capitals were to fire nine shots on goal and five made the Rangers see red.
A minute after Green netted his first of the season, Mark Lofthouse drilled one at Davidson. The rebound went to Jarvis in the left-wing circle and he put it home.
With 9:31 remaining, Gartner deflected Robert Picard's slap shot for his eighth goal and the margin was 4-3. Now the fans were chanting "Let's Go Caps" with a fervor.
When New York's Dave Maloney interfered with Gartner, the Capitals mounted a relentless power play that paid off when Edberg took Bengt Gustafsson's perfect pass and beat Davidson from close range.
There were no thoughts of a tie in anyone's mind and Mulvey quickly shattered it by deflecting Kaszycki's backhand shot from the right-wing circle.
"I went straight to the net and Kaz sent it in," Mulvey said. "I didn't really see it. I had half a stride on the defenseman and I had my stick out and I got a lucky bounce. Maybe it's what we needed. We haven't been getting those bounces.
"Gary talked to us between the second and third periods and every individual in that room sucked it up. I don't think we could have been stopped. The fans didn't have a lot to cheer about, but once we got the first one they started to roll and they really gave us a lift."
There were still more than five minutes left and the Rangers, trying to extend a seven-game unbeaten streak, poured on the pressure. They were foiled by some great defensive plays by Pierre Bouchard and Jarvis, plus solid goaltending by rookie goalie Rollie Boutin.
Bouchard, who had broken up a two-on-one break moments before Mulvey scored, blocked a Ron Greschner drive in the slot with 1:19 left and afterward he displayed a big welt on his stomach as a souvenir.
"You don't feel the bruises when you win," said Bouchard, playing his first game since he was injured in Winnipeg Nov 2. "We proved a lot in that third period. Gary works us good and keeps us in shape, so it's easier when you come back. And when you ask a guy to go late in the game, he still has something to go on."
Boutin, a bit shaky under a 22-shot onslaught in the second period, enjoyed the crowd's chants of "Rol-lie" in the third.
"It feels pretty good," the youngster said. "It doesn't happen often. I have some things to learn and I had some difficult moments, but you have to have confidence in yourself and in the team."
Gary Green was glad he retained his confidence in Boutin, although he admitted he had considered replacing him with Wayne Stephenson after the second period.
"I'm certainly glad I didn't," Green said.