Capital Centre was still resting on its acres of Prince George's County parkland yesterday, its foundations apparently unaffected by the Washington Capitals' earth-shaking upset of the Stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night.
The Capitals used an airplane to fly to Atlanta last night, but more than a few players were willing to attempt the trip under their own power. For the Capitals, beating Montreal was Christmas, New Year's Eve and, depending on nationality, July 4, Victoria Day or Walpurgis Night, all combined into one outpouring of joy.
Judging by the way the victors went out of their way to praise teammates afterward, nationality is no longer a barrier to performance, nor is petty jealousy. Both have been obstacles on other nights, but the Capitals now seem a team united in one urgent mission, to gain a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"The guys played well, they were fired up and they deserved it," said goalie Wayne Stephenson, a hero in the nets.
"Everybody gave 150 percent," said Robert Picard, who played despite a 12-stitch cut on his forehead, inflicted in the pregame warmup, and scored the first goal. "(Pat) Ribble played really well in his first game and Gusty Bengt Gustafsson) scored an outstanding goal (the winner)."
"Those five days (of rest in California between games) at Newport Beach brought the guys closer to each other," said Bob Sirois, who assisted on Gustafsson's winning goal. "There's a good feeling in the dressing room. I think we'll make it (the playoffs) now. We're playing every game like there's no tomorrow.
Ribble, who has bounced around through four teams in less than a year, threw some devastating checks and said, "I'm glad to be with the Caps. I thought I played pretty well in Toronto, but they wouldn't give me a real chance. I'll say one thing, they can talk about the crowds in Toronto and other places, but I never heard a place jump like this one did."
The ecstatic crowd of 13,551 had the Beltway's eye-catching Tortilla rocking and rolling. Also pointed up was one of the Centre's shortcomings, because at game time thousands of fans still were struggling to reach the rink through horrible traffic jams on the Beltway, on access roads and at the $2.50 parking ticket collecting booths.
A couple of miles down Central Avenue, finishing touches are being placed on the Addison Road Metro station, designated as a terminus. A couple of extra miles of construction would save incalculable energy waste, but it is unlikely that Metro will ever stretch that far, because any politician advocating an extension would immediately be accused of special interest.
At least the Capitals seem aimed in the right direction, with a bright future in the NHL. Tonight (WDCA-TV 20 at 8 p.m.) they visit Atlanta, for possibly the last time.
The Flames are rurmored headed for Calgary, the Meadowlands or Dallas and recent crowds have done little to squelch the topic of desertion. Most NHL cities show attendance boosts after the football season, but Atlanta has attracted only two five-figure crowds in 10 home games since Jan. 1.
Tuesday, the Flames came home from a trip with a record of only three losses in their last 16 games, yet only 6,871 turned out to watch them tie an exciting Minnesota team. By contrast, the Capitals, 19th in a 21-team league, are averaging 12,424 in the new year.
While Washington fans hunger for that first playoff game, Atlanta spectators dread the postseason. Playoff participants five times in seven years, the Flames have won no series, only one of 13 games.
Although the Capitals would like to celebrate another victory in Atlanta, they have ample reason for partying even without it. Pierre Bouchard (32) and Rick Green (24) marked birthdays yesterday. Alan Hangsleben will be 27 Friday.
Rolf Edberg can celebrate the extension of his scoring streak to seven games. Edberg leads the team in game-winning goals with four and it is interesting to note that the Scandinavian contingent, sometimes criticized for not trying to drive opponents through the boards, has eight of the Capitals' 17 winners. Gustafsson collected his third Tuesday and Antero Lehtonen has the other.