Ryan Walter's second goal of the night defused a Winnipeg comeback attempt as the Washington Capitals left the National Hockey League cellar by defeating the Winnipeg Jets tonight, 6-3.
Walter's 15th goal of the season came 13 seconds after the Jets had closed the once three-goal spread to 4-3 with 13 minutes remaining.
Walter, the 21-year-old captain of the Capitals, scored his timely goal at 6:34 of the third period by expertly directing Paul McKinnon's pass in front of the Winnipeg net.
Some of the 11,917 fans began heading to the exits, convinced the Jets were about to lose their 34th game.
A key factor in the Washington victory was the goaltending of Wayne Stephenson, who stopped 27 of the Jets 30 shots, many of them extremely difficult.
Goals by Rolf Edberg and Glen Currie only 14 seconds apart allowed the Capitals to snap a 1-1 tie and complete the first period with a 3-1 lead.
Walter opened the scoring for the Capitals at 11:03 of the period when he tapped Mike Gartner's rebound behind Winnipeg goaltender Pierre Hamel.
Gartner's shot was high and hard from 20 feet away and Hamel couldn't hold. As the puck fell at his feet, Walter neatly bunted the rebound through his legs.
The Jets drew even at 13:28 when rookie John Markell drove a 40-foot slap shot under Wayne Stephenson's glove.
Stephenson had played brilliantly and the Jets were showing signs of frustration. Several breakaways were wasted by offside calls, errant shooting and Stephenson's goaltending.
Then, only 14 seconds later, Currie lifted Antero Lehtonen's rebound over Hamel.
The Capitals outshot the Jets 12-9 in the period.
The Capitals continued to rely on Stephenson's steady goaltending in the second period.
The 35-year-old veteran, who starred for Canada's Winnipeg-based national team during the late '60s, managed to make the initial saves while his defense cleared away the rebounds.
Both teams scored a goal in the period and the Capitals left the ice with a 4-2 lead.
Edberg scored his second goal for the Capitals when he finished a pretty passing play with Bob Sirois and Al Hangsleben, at 12:48.
Sirois dropped a pass in the slot for the oncoming Hangsleben, whose low shot was turned behind Markus Mattsson by Edberg.
Mattsson had replaced Hamel in goal for the Jets at the start of the period as the Jets' coach, Tom McVie, made a rare goaltending substitution, during the game.
The lanky, 22-year-old Finn, popular among Winnipeg fans, made the save of the night in the first minute when he reached up and grabbed Paul Mulvey's shot from 15 feet away.
Gradually, the crowd began to register disgust as the Jets' play went from bad to worse.
Meanwhile, the Caps were enjoying a dominant position.
But, at 18:47, they were a bit too relaxed when the Jets' resident tough guy, Jimmy Mann, took a hard pass from Morris Lukowich and broke behind Pierre Bouchard. Mann's driving slap shot beat Stephenson to his stick side.