Suddenly, the Capitals can do no wrong.
Caught with too many men on the Capital Centre ice, Washington converted the shorthanded situation into the game-winning goal last night as it thrashed the Chicago Black Hawks, 6-2.
Two first-period rebounds by Mike Kaszycki, finishing plays set up by Tom Rowe, propelled the home team into a 2-0 lead. A 30-foot blast by Bob Murray, who scored both Chicago goals, halved the margin and there was fear of collapse when referee Bob Myers counted Capitals early in the second period and found two right wings.
Rookie Bengt Gustafsson intercepted a Murray pass in Chicago ice, however, and raced 140 feet down the middle to slide the puck into a net vacated by veteran Chicago goalie Tony Esposito. He had moved right, expecting the Swede to shift from backhand to forehand. Instead, Gustaffson carried it right on by for the 3-1 lead.
"We died after they scored that third goal," said Chicago Coach Eddie Johnston. "It set us on our heels and we never seemed to recover. They smell the playoffs and they are close. That's one improved team.' A power-play score by Robert Picard, on a 55-foot drive through a gathering of players in front of Esposito, made it 4-1 late in the period. Ryan Walter and Mike Gartner supplied the finishing touches around Murray's second goal.
This was only the second time this season the Capitals put victories back to back, but it meant four triumphs in six games and few can doubt that Washington is finally headed in the right direction.
"The whole team is playing well, but we can't be content yet," said Coach Gary Green. "We have to keep tightening the screw. The sky is the limit." g
Rollie Boutin once again was solid in the nets, stopping 23 Chicago shots as his goals-against mark, best in the NHL, fell to 2.20.
Walter, Picard and defenseman Rick Green leveled some savage checks on the Hawks and drew repeated applause from the crowd of 14,126, second largest of the season.
Esposito shut out Washington five weeks ago, but now was fortunate to get away with a six-goal yield as the Capitals buzzed around him from beginning to end. Washington has topped its total of 34 short only once all season and many of these 34 were threatening.
Guy Charron's steal from defenseman Gred Fox preceded Kaszycki's first score. After Esposito stopped Charron, Rowe had to chances and thought the second time that the puk was in. While Rowe waved his stick in anger at goal judge Ed Pantalone, Kaszycki poked the puck over the line.
"the puck was lying on the line, partly over but not all the way, and I was afraid Myers would blow his whistle," Pantalone said. "Thank God somebody knocked it in or they would have been on me all night."
As it was, the fans started cheering with that first red light and kept it up most of the night. Just 25 seconds later, Rowe grabbed the puck as Ted Bulley of Chicago fell. Rowe drilled it off Esposito's pad, the frozen rubber lay in the slot as the masked Esposito searched in vain and Kaszycki beat defender Keith Brown to it for an easy poke into the empty net.
Kaszycki has four goals since joining the Capitals Dec. 7 and he has scored in bunches, collecting the other two against Minnesota Dec. 12.
Walter, the leading Cap scorer, became the team's third 10-goal man in the third period after Gartner pried the puck away from defenseman Mike O'Connell and made a perfect pass to complete a two-on-one break.
Later, Gartner, used a screen by big Paul Mulvey to backhand his 11th goal through Esposito.
Mulvey kept brother Grant, the Hawks' only double-figure goal scorer, under wraps with some close checking as the two were matched head to head.Paul also pulled Grant from the middle of a conflagration in in the first period, after Gartner boarded Doug Wilson on an icing call and Grant Mulvey punched Gartner in retaliation.
The Capitals ostensibly won because they outskated, outhit and outshot the Hawks. There might have another reason, however, in the tradition of Kate Smith and the Philadelphia Flyers. Roger Doucet's recording of the national anthem was played for the third time at Capital Centre and the home team's record on those occasions is 3-0.