The Toronto Maple Leafs are called the Maple Laffs up here, so strange has their season become. But the Washington Capitals found nothing to laugh at tonight, particularly goalie Wayne Stephenson.
Stephenson faced 45 shots, his high for the year, and enough got by to provide the Leafs with a 6-1 victory. Toronto built a 3-0 lead in the first period and there was never much doubt that Washington was headed for its third straight defeat.
Stephenson was struck on the left side of the face by an Ian Turnball blast in the first period. In the third, with the puck under Stephenson's pad, Rick Vaive batted at it until he had knocked both Stephenson and the puck into the net, although referee Ron Harris ruled no goal.
Late in the game, with Washington shorthanded, Stephenson slashed Toronto's Dan Maloney in the ankle. He was assessed a minor and the Leafs scored their last two goasl before the two minutes elapsed.
"I didn't hit him that hard," Stephenson said. "It was a bad call. If you don't hit those guys, they'll stand in front of you forever. If you do something like that, it's getting so you might as well kayo the guy, hit him over the head."
Another frustrated Capital was Bob Sirois, who flew here this afternoon, arriving at 6 p.m., after learning that he had a broken rib. It was taped and Sirois played, but the play was not equal to the courage displayed.
Sirsois lost the puck twice, in circumstances that led to Toronto's third and fourth goals. The first time, he was checked at the Toronto blue line by Dave Burrows, whose quick headman pass set up a score by Terry Martin. The next time, John Anderson picked off his pass and scored on a breakway, netting his own rebound after Stephenson made the initial save.
"We've got seven games to go and I have to play," Sirois said. "Football players play with a broken rib. Bumpy (embro) did a good taping job. It's sore, but when you're in the stretch like this you have to go. I just hope I'm not hurting the team."
Sirois' courageous appearance should have stimulated the rest of the team to a better performance, but once again the Capitals were flat in the first period. Pat Hickey put Toronto on the scoreboard after just 36 seconds and scored again at 7:23 to make it 2-0. When Washington failed to capitalize on some good chances, all was obviously lost.
"We didn't come out with enthusiasm," said Coach Gary Green, who was once sent to the minors and playing oblivion by the man behind Toronto's bench, Joe Crozier. "They got on top of us early, when we were lifeless, and there was no looking back.
"The guys have got to come to this realization, that we've worked so hard to come this far, it seems senseless to flush it down the toilet because of a few bad breaks. There were several shots that might have gone in and given us a lift. But rather than sparking them, it took away, everybody got the feeling nothing would go in.
"Give Toronto credit, though. I think they remembered well the 8-2 beating we gave them here last time and they were hungry to return the favor."
With Toronto ahead 1-0, goalie Mike Palmateer made a blind save of a splendid deflection by Ryan Walter. Then, with Washington down 2-0, Palmateer deflected a Paul Mulvey shot away while lying on the ice, stopped a Sirois breakaway and was most fortunate when, as he and Burrows tried to clear Mulvey away from the slot, a drive by Pierre Bouchard that was headed toward the open net struck Burrows as Mulvey pushed him away.
"It looked like one of those nights," said unlucky Pierre. "He was pushed right in front. Then when Lofty didn't score, you started to get that feeling. It was one of those nights."
Bouchard was referring to a second-period play when, with Palmateer behind the net, Mark Lofthouse received a lucky bounce off the boards and poked the puck toward the empty net five feet away. Somehow, Toronto's Borge Salming dove and blocked it.
The one time Washington managed to get the puck behind Palmateer, Rolf Edberg won a faceoff from ex-Cap Mike Kaszycki in the left-wing circle and drilled it right past the goalie, back in Crozier's good graces after missing a Saturday practice.
It was Edberg's 20th goal, but he declined to celebrate.
"Not today, it means nothing," Edberg said. "If we had won 1-0, I'd be very happy. But not when we lose by that score."
Darryl Sittler was somewhat happier. The Toronto center connected with Washington two men short and reached 40 goals for the third time in his career.