Wayne Stephenson stopped 24 Chicago Black Hawk shots last night, including two heart-stoppers in the final minute, and recorded the Washington Capitals' first shutout in 33 months, a 2-0 decision watched by 7,156 non-Phillie fanatics.
Ex-Hawk Pat Ribble scored the only goal that mattered, a power-play deflection of a Darren Veitch drive at 10:26 of the second period.
"That's when I started thinking shutout, after that first goal," Stephenson said. "It's tough getting another goal against Chicago, because they're such a tough defensive team."
The Capitals, despite several break-aways, a couple of post-rattlers and some close-in deflections, had plenty of trouble getting another puck past 37-year-old Tony Esposito.
So the loyalists in the stands were still holding their breath when the Hawks pulled Esposito for a sixth forward. On the first try, the sixth man came on too soon and a center-ice faceoff was decreed. But Esposito got off cleanly with 43 seconds left and the Hawks went on the warpath.
Terry Ruskowski made a waist-high swipe to keep the puck in the Wahsington zone and there were instant memories of a similar move by Bob Dailey a year ago that helped Philadelphia tie the Capitals with four seconds left. The puck went to Doug Wilson in the slot and Stephenson blocked his shot. Rich Preston pounced on the rebound, then banged his stick on the ice in frustration as Stephenson stopped his attempt, too.
Twelve seconds remained when Ryan Walter won a faceoff from Ruskowski in the Washington zone. Mike Gartner whistled the puck down ice and it seemed likely that an icing call would give the Hawks another Capitals-end faceoff and four or five seconds for maneuvering.
Instead, Paul Mulvey outskated Chicago's Bob Murray, who was hampered a bit by a groin pull, to wash out the icing. Then, for icing of a different sort, Mulvey passed to Gartner, whose shot hit the cords an instant before the green light signaled the end of the game.
"I wasn't sure of the time left and I wanted to get down there to stop the icing, not to get a goal," said Mulvey, whose skating is not considered his principal asset. "It's just tough to get these big legs going. It's not tough to keep them going."
Washington outshot the Hawks, 17-3 in the second period and 36-24 for the game, quite a turnabout from Sunday's 8-4 loss in Chicago, when the Hawks had a 40-31 edge in shots. The biggest switch involved Ribble, whose 6-foot-3, 220-pound body had been struck by three Chicago shots that caromed into the Washington net.
This time, with the Hawks' Greg Fox off the tripping Gartner, the Capitals kept the puck in the Chicago zone for 75 seconds, until Veitch's 55-foot blast struck Ribble's stick in the slot and flew past Esposito.
"I'd never beaten Tony before and I laughed a little after that one," Ribble said. "It's fun to score on Tony; he's such a great goalie, especially when I don't score many anyway.
"I was moving in front more than usual, mostly on the power play. I can probably screen better than the forwards out there and since I was already in there and guys were covering for me, I figured why go back to the point?
"I was glad we beat the Hawks, especially after three (goals) went off me the other night. Every time I stood near our net it went off me and in. Tonight we were doing three-on-twos in the warmup and guys were passing them off my skates and they were going on net. I said, 'I hope it's not going to be another one of those nights.'"
If Ribble was sorry about anything, it was receiving credit for the goal. Veitch's parents have been here since the season opened and they have only one more chance to witness his first NHL goal, Friday night against St. Louis.
"My partner got it; I don't care," Veitch said. "It would be nice to get the first one out of the way and it would be nice to get it while my parents are here. But how can I complain when we win a game like that? Besides, assists count one point, too."
Aside from the heroics in the last few seconds, Stephenson made outstanding saves on Ted Bulley in the first period, during a delayed penalty against Washington's Pierre Bouchard, and on John Marks in the third, on a close-in deflection of a Denis Savard shot. He was helped when rookie Florent Robidoux defected a Ruskowski pass off a goal post with seven minutes left.
"Our defense knocked down a lot of shots," Stephenson said. "They knocked one away that I never did see. I don't remember the tough shots or who shot them, and I don't care, either.
"We're a team working toward a goal and eventually shutouts will come for us. Maybe this will start it."
The Capitals' previous shutout was recorded by Jim Bedard on Jan. 4, 1978, against Los Angeles, 209 games ago.
Mike Palmateer, who came within 72 seconds of a shutout opening night against Winnipeg, yielded eight goals to the Hawks Sunday and he had the final word last night: "I put the pressure on Wayne with those eight goals. If we're going to win the Vezina, we need five zeroes in a row."