The Washington Capitals flew to New York last night, the better to become acclimated to the change of scenery and sanity they will encounter tonight when they meet the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
In Toronto Wednesday, the Capitals were psyched up by the knowledge that the folks back home were watching via television and they finally used that medium to advantage in thrashing the Maple Leafs, 8-2.
Friday at Capital Centre, a crowd of 14,126 turned out to salute the heroes of Toronto and their cheers helped keep the Capitals on cloud nine in a 6-2 victory over Chicago.
Tonight, the Capitals must gear themselves up with some reverse psychology, feeding on the boos that are sure to greet them and to fill the Garden whenever the home club proves displeasing.
The Garden is the birthplace of the down-the-anthem syndrome, the practice of unleashing a resounding cheer midway through the National Anthem and maintaining it to the conclusion.
It is also the residence of bottle-throwing, obscenity-shouting spectators who quickly terminate the pleasure of attendance for those who merely wish to see a hockey game.
The ultimate Garden debacle occurred two nights before Christmas. A fan reached over the glass and stunned Boston's Stan Jonathan with an overhand right. Another grabbed a stick and banged it off the head of the Bruins' Brad McCrimmon.
The Bruins retaliated by rushing into the seats after their tormentors and it took a great effort by the security people to break up the ensuing battle before there were serious casualties. Four spectators were arrested after that confrontation.
"The place really is a zoo," said Washington General Manager Max McNab, who watched the Dec. 23 brawl on Boston television and was startled to see his son, Peter, in the first wave of Bruin assault troops.
"They call you every dirty name imaginable. That's bad enough, but to actually punch a player, that's unbelievable."
"The security there is fantastic," said Washington winger Greg Polis, who heard many boos and worse during his tour with the Rangers. "Usually, if a guy gets really out of line, he gets hustled out in a hurry."
The epitome of Garden criticism is Ranger goaltender John Davidson. A year ago, he was hooted repeatedly during a struggling regular season. Then, in the playoffs, he was given reverence akin to God. This year, it's back to normal, with derisive cheers accompanying each routine save.
"The fans pay their money and they can say and do pretty much whatever they want," Davidson said. "What I object to is the swearing and all the rest of the stuff."
Asked if the booing and other abuse were part of a professional athlete's life, Davidson replied, "Yeah, in New York City."
Tonight, the Capitals hope to hear a lot of boos.
Rollie Boutin is scheduled to play his fifth straight game in the Washington nets. With four victories thus far, he has already won more games than either Gary Inness or Wayne Stephenson. Boutin's 2.20 goals-against average is the NHL's best . . . Rick Green, who bruised a shoulder in the victory over Chicago, and Paul McKinnon, who played well despite the flu, were unexpected participants in yesterday's practice . . . All 12 Capital forwards had at least one shot on goal against Chicago.