For the first time in nine months, the Washington Capitals celebrated a victory on the road tonight. Dennis Maruk scored all three goals as the Capitals whipped the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-1, before a disgruntled crowd announced as 6,888.
Maruk's fifth National Hockey League hat trick consisted of a power-play goal in the first period, a shorthanded score in the second and an equal-strength marker in the third.
"It's always a thrill to score three goals, but it's a big thrill for us to win a game," Maruk said. "We've had so many ties. It's a big game for us to win on the road."
Neither Gary Green, the Capital coach, nor Max McNab, the general manager, could remember the team's last success on foreign ice and, after a moment's thought, McNab said, "By God, it has been a while."
It was on Feb. 16 at Vancouver that the Capitals last won away from home and since then they failed 16 times, seven of them ties. Washington had not won anywhere since Oct. 21, losing three and playing six ties.
Although Maruk has scored at least one point in nine straight games, only one short of Robert Picard's club record, he had not been playing with his usual spark and Green had called him in to discuss it.
"He hasn't been skating as quickly as he's capable of," Green said. "He's capable of buzzing, of getting underneath a lot of guys. He skated better tonight than he has for a long time. He was motoring, firing the puck and getting it away quickly."
Maruk opened the scoring on a power-play rebound of a Rich Green shot, the only extra-man score in a game that saw each team receive eight power-play opportunities.
Jim Hamilton, recalled today from Binghamton, pulled Pittsburgh even with a 45-footer that eluded goalie Wayne Stephenson.
Maruk scored the winner late in the second period, at the exact second that Ryan Walter completed serving a double minor, for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct. Dennis Ververgaert, at the left wing just inside the Pittsburgh blueline, made a perfect pass to Maruk at the inner edge of the right-wing circle and Maruk did not miss.
Maruk completed the scoring early in the third period with a 40-footer that bounced between the legs of goalie Rob Holland, screened by his own defenseman, Ron Stackhouse.
"I've been thinking more defense for a few games," Maruk said. "The teams I was with before Washington and here, before Gary Green was coach, all I thought was offense.Prony (Jean Pronovost) and Bob (Kelly) are up-and-down wingers who know the defensive game and I've never really known the defensive game. In Oakland and Cleveland, I was just told to score goals.
"Thinking about defense, I've been a little hesitant about my skating. I'm watching where I'm going. And there are times when the injury sits in the back of my mind for a few seconds before it disappears. It was a serious injury and I don't want that to happen again."
Maruk underwent surgery a year ago for torn ligaments in his right knee and he still feels numbness there, particularly in the nerves that were cut during the operation.
For a while tonight there was fear of another serious injury. Bengt Gustafsson was knocked unconscious at the two-minute mark when Pittsburgh's Randy Carlyle nailed him with a solid check at center ice as he was looking back for the puck. Gustafsson was wheeled off on a stretcher and taken to Presbyterian University Hospital, where X-rays proved negative and it appeared Gustafsson had nothing more than a strained neck.
"He was out like a light," said trainer Gump Embro, who raced to Gustafsson's aid and pried his mouth open to prevent him from swallowing his tongue. "He must have been out before he hit the ice. It took me a while to get him open, because his teeth and jaw locked right up.
"He bit my fingers opening him up. We were really afraid of a neck injury, which is why the stretcher was used. And a cervical collar was put on him, too, just in case. But it looks like just a minor whiplash."
The Pittsburgh fans, who spent much of the night booing the home team, showed their usual compassion when Gustafsson was hurt. One segment chanted "1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10, you're out" a couple of times.
In the end, the Capitals, who scored only one goal in two defeats here a year ago, enjoyed the last laugh.