Today was Boxing Day, a holiday in Canada, and the Washington Capitals were among the principal celebrants. They boxed the Toronto Maple Leafs' ears, 8-2 for their first victory in 13 visits to Maple Leaf Gardens.
Guy Charron, playing despite a painfull thigh injury, recorded his third hat trick as a Capital, but he had to share the scoring spotlight: Paul Mulvey had two goals, Robert Picard had a goal and assisted on three, and captain Ryan Walter earned four assists.
The eventual result was obvious by first period's end; Washington built a 4-0 leads while outstanding the Leafs, 16-6. It was the first time in their six-year history that the Capitals had left for the first intermission with a four-goal lead.
Coach Gary Green had an opportunity to relish a win on the road for the first time since he took over for Danny Belisle Nov. 14, and this one was particularly sweet because his parents were among a large group on hand from his hometown of Tillsonburg, Ontario, accompanied by a banner reading "Good luck, Gary, from all your friends in Tillsonburg."
Friends and relatives on holiday had the Capitals scrambling for tickets to sold-out Maple Leaf Gardens, as player demand more than doubled the usual 50-ticket allotment for road games. It was as if everyone connected with the Capitals could sense that something good was about to happen.
"People phoned me for tickets before the game and I told them, "We're going to kick hell out of them,'" Walter said. The pressure is on us. We've got to win to get in the playoffs.Now that most of the guys are back we've got to get things rolling."
Walter was shifted back to center today, between Mulvey and Gartner, expressly to cheer the Leafs' big line, centered by Darryl Sittler. The move paid big dividends: Gartner and Mulvey scored first-period goals while Sittler and linemates Lanny McDonald and Tiger Williams did not manage a shot on Washington goalie Rollie Boutin.
"That was a great feeling," Walter said. We were put out to check Sittler's line and we did just what we were asked to do. We moved the puck well out of our own end. Rollie made a couple of saves when he had to, and we really got things moving."
Charron opened the scoring at 5:23 on the Capitals' sixth shot, before the Leafs had been able to test Boutin. Tom Rowe's flashy pass sent Mike Kaszycki in on a breakaway and Mike Palmateer made the save, but Charron lifted the rebound over the Toronto goalie.
Palmateer suffered an ankle injury on the play and left in favor of Paul Harrison. The end result must have scared Leaf fans, since Palmateer is playing out his option.
Gartner made it 2-0 when he took a drop pass from Walter, cut between two defenders and lifed the puck into the upper right corner, Mulvey made it 3-0 by coming around from behind and jamming the puck past Harrison on the short side.
"My game is jamming the front of the net and even if I don't get a goal on a play like that, I take two or three defenders with me and screen the goalie," Mulvey said. "The goal was a bonus."
With Washington's Paul McKinnon off for holding. Walter blocked a Borje Salming shot and skated into the Toronto zone. Salming recovered and checked Walter as the puck squirted to McDonald. But Rolf Edberg dashed into the slot, stole the puck and drilled it past Harrison for the Capitals' second shorthanded score of the season.
The Leafs' frustration was heightening early in the second period when Rocky Saganiuk went into the boards with Washington's Wes Jarvis speared himself in the stomach with his own stick and had to be helped off. Unlike Palmateer, he was able to return later.
After Toronto Coach Floyd Smith used the last change to pull his stars away from Walter and Co., McDonald put the Leafs on the scoreboard at 11:12 of the second period. Charron, however, scored his second rebound following a Picard power-play drive for a 5-1 lead that quickly silenced fans who had begun a brave "Go Leafs Go" chant.
"We have to be hungry and we have to want it," Charron said. "On a lot of breakaways we've just been taking it for granted the guy would score. But tonight we were husling after the rebounds."
Charron, who missed practice Monday because of his thigh injury, skated briefly at noon today before being chased by Green.
"I didn't want to overdo it, but I'd been off the ice for three days," Charron said. Those three days gave the leg a chance to heal a bit and it didn't feel all that bad at the beginning of the game. It tightened up as I got tired, but I'll take three goals with a tender leg any time."
He completed his hat trick on a fine setup by Kaszycki while the Capitals held a two-man advantage in the third period.
Boutin reduced his goals-against average to 2:25, the lowest of any goalie who has played as much as one minute in the league this season.