As the Washington Capitals' playoff fever showed signs of breaking, Coach Gary Green prescribed plenty of rest for his weary team.
No practice was scheduled either today or Monday, as the Capitals carried a two-game losing streak into Monday night's important battle with the Toronto Maple Leafs (WDCA-TV- 20 at 8 p.m.).
"I just told them to make sure they utilize these two days as a rest period," said Green, who shunned a similar prospect himself and drove to Oshawa, Ontario, to scout a junior playoff game. "There isn't going to be much time in these last two weeks to rest tired bodies and I think several guys were mentally and physically drained last night."
The Capitals took a 6-2 beating in St. Louis Saturday, following Friday's 4-3 loss to Minnesota, and more than one player limped off the bus after it stopped at the team's hotel here at 5 this morning.
High scorer Mike Gartner was struck on the foot by a St. Louis shot and, although he completed the game, he was unable to skate with his normal drive. Defenseman Paul MacKinnon left the contest with a charley horse.
Green tried various combinations on a third line, note of which seemed especially fortuitous, and he conceded that the absence of Bob Sirois, who has bruised ribs, was causing considerable difficulty.
MacKinnon's departure left Washington with only three defensemen. Pat Ribble was still nursing that bad knee, so Alan Hangsleben had to move back, leaving a hole in the No. 2 line. Wes Jarvis took over at center, with Rolf Edberg moving to lef t wing, and Jarvis and Bengt Gustafsson executed a clever give-and-go to lift Washington within 3-2 early in the third period.
The Blues connected on three of their four shots in the final period, however, with defenseman Jack Brownschidle scoring twice in 54 seconds.
"We felt we could still win it if we came out with a little extra effor in the third period and the effort was there," Green said. "Then they make three of their four shots and it kills us."
Although goalie Wayne Stephenson showed signs of breaking down, Green said he would stay in the nets until he requested relief.
"Stevie is drained right now, just like everybody else," Green said. "But he's got the experience, he's been keeping us in there and I think with this rest he will be okay.
"I'm not concerned that we can't regroup. Since Dec. 15 we've never had an extended losing streak. We've been able to turn things around before and I think we can now.
"We should bet a little extra spark tomorrow from all the guys from Toronto and I'm hoping Sirois will be back Wednesday. Either Yvon (Labre) or Rib (Ribble) should be ready then, too.
"I never expected to win the last 15 games. You can do that early, but not now when everybody is after those playoff points. The fans had us written off two months ago. A month ago they were hopeful again and a week ago they had us already in the playoffs.
"I'm confident we'll be in, but we'll have to work for it."
Meanwhile, in Toronto, where they are selling playoff tickets for five games rather than 14, as in Washington, the season-long soap opera has shown no signs of running out of material.
The Leafs lost to Buffalo, 5-1, Saturday night, with Czech Jiri Crha in goal instead of Mike Palmateer.
Palmateer missed a mandatory practice Saturday morning, which he thought was the Leaf's usual gameday optional workout. Joe Crozier, the club's new assistant coach, employed a pass-the-word method of informing the players, and Palmateer did not get the word.
When he arrived Saturday night expecting to play, Palmateer was told he would not even dress. So he left the building and watched the game on television.
"I didn't even know there was a practice," said Palmateer, who had shut out Philadelphia Thursay. "I'm really down, perhaps more so than at any time this season. I really wanted to play."