Bob Sirois gave himself a little extra reason to celebrate his 26th birthday tonight, his third-period conversion of a Rolf Edberg pass on a two-on-one break lifting the Washington Capitals into a 2-2 tie with the Detroit Red Wings.
In this opener of an important five-game trip, the Caps squandered many scoring opportunities. In recent games they have invariably shot, not passed, on two-on-one and three-on-one situations. After Edberg caught up with Bengt Gustafsson's long pass, however, he waited and threaded the puck to Sirois for his big goal.
The red light, like so many parts of the Joe Louis Arena operation, was not working properly, but only the Detroit fans among the small crowd of 10,345 doubted the score.
"I didn't care about the light, because the puck was stuck in the net," Sirois said. 'There was no way they could say it wasn't in. I was worried before I shot, though, because I was going further away from the net and the puck was bouncing. I shot high and hoped for the best.
"Finishing two-on-ones is something you acquire with experience. Often your other partner is open and you're ready to make the play, but the defenseman gets in the way and cuts off the pass. This time it worked and I have two reasons to celebrate. Besides the goal, I got a lot more ice time in the last period and a half."
The extra ice time was necessitated by an injury to Gary defenseman Paul MacKinnon, who was rammed into the boards in the second period and suffered a slight concussion.
Although MacKinnon did not return to action and was still groggy afterward, he was permitted to visit with his parents following the game. He was then scheduled to spend the night under observation in trainer Gump Embro's room and, if all is well, will go with the team to Winnipeg, where it plays Friday night.
Coach Gary Green started the game with two defensive pairs, MacKinnon with Pierre Bouchard and Rick Green with Robert Picard. When MacKinnon left -- he also took a shot on his left knee -- Alan Hangslebem moved back from his new spot on the line with Edberg and Gustafsson, and Sirois filled the hole.
Sirois' goal came at 3:23 of the final period and there were few scoring threats until the closing seconds. Then Washington goalie Wayne Stephenson blocked a tough drive by Detroit rookie John Ogrodnick and Mike Gartner's skate deflected Dale McCourt's rebound into the corner.
"It's tough when you can't reach the sucker," Stephenson said. "My stick was there for an ice shot, but I couldn't get my hand out there if he's lifted it. I was relieved when it went off Garts' skate."
"We were a little disorganized the last few seconds," Green said. "we were caught out of position and nobody was covering the slot. Thank God there were so few seconds left."
They might want to check the new building to see if the ice slands downhill. The Capitals dominated the first and third periods, scoring once in each, while Detroit controlled its 20 minutes in the same direction, netting two goals.
Sirois actually was the only Capital to put the puck in the net. Washington's first goal, credited to Gartner, came when his pass into the slot was fumbled and poked into the Red Wings' net by Detroit defender Willie Huber.
The fans booed the Wings constantly during the period and only the Capitals' inability to finish off plays kept them from building an insurmountable lead. Gustafsson hit the side of the net on a three-on-one with goalie Rogie Vachon hopelessly out of position and Tim Coulis stubbed a point-blank shot after Mark Lofthouse set him up.
Detroit tied it when Dan Labraaten skated around Picard and lifted the puck over the diving Stephenson. Then Brent Peterson's first NHL goal, on a close-in drive after Paul Woods pried the puck away from two Capitals behind the net, made it 2-1.
By game's end each team had a point and nobody was really satisfied, particularly the squirming Detroit fans. In the Washington trainer's room, captain Ryan Walter bent over MacKinnon, looked up and said, "When is that cloud going to blow away? I'd like to dynamite it."
The frustrations continue to grow.