The Washington Capitals' forecheckers burned the Calgary Flames badly last night. Forcing the Calgary defensemen to give up the puck in key situations, Washington capitalized for a 4-2 victory before 8,721 at Capital Centre.
Mike Gartner, limited to two goals in his last eight games, connected twice to boost his season total to 12. His second, with 10:07 left, provided some breathing space after Calgary had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to pull within one goal.
Eric Vail's 45-foot shot, which sailed just under the crossbar, made it 3-2 after only one minute of the third period. The Flames then put on the pressure and it seemed only a matter of time until they tied the score.
Goalie Mike Palmateer skated far out to clear the puck in several difficult situations and that typing goal never came. Instead, as Paul Mulvey shared penalty-box time with Calgay's Randy Holt, Guy Charron replaced him and made the play that put the game away.
Charron checked defenseman Phil Russell deep in the Flames' end and Russell made a poor pass that was picked off by Gartner in the slot. Gartner drilled the puck into the net before goalie Pat Riggin could react and the Capitals once again were back at .500.
"It was hard work pretty well on the part of the whole team," Gartner said. "We were in there checking and on top of them quick, and you're bound to get goals when you're on top of them all the time. Guy should have had an assist on that goal. He did 90 percent of the work."
The game's first goal came on a 45-footer over Riggin's left shoulder by rookie Darren Veitch, his first NHL score. Gartner and Eric Vail were hacking at the puck in the slot when Vail won temporary possession, but his clearing attempt was right on Veitch's stick.
"I didn't know when I'd get that first one, but I'm glad it finally came," Veitch said. "I've had a lot of chances. You know when you're getting chances you'll eventually get the goals."
Bengt Gustafsson made it 2-0 before the first period ended and it was a well-deserved score. Ninety seconds earlier, Gustafsson had dumped Holt in the Calgary end without a penalty call, and Holt responded with a cross check to the back of Gustafsson's neck, also ignored by referee Ron Wicks. Alan Hangsleben moved in to battle Holt and he and Holt went off with two-minute roughing sentences.
It must have upset Holt to sit in the box and watch Gustafsson intercept Bob Murdoch's offtarget pass in the slot and fire the puck past Riggin. For the rest of the game, Holt pursued Gustafsson, once blasting him so hard against the boards, and using a high stick in the process, that a pane of glass was dislodged from its standards.
That uncalled foul brought alternate governor Peter O'Malley up to the press box to complain to Frank Udvari, the supervisor of officials. Coach Gary Green was angry, too, and said later, "Those were two deliberate, direct-cases of high sticking. They were very uncalled for."
"If he (Wicks) doesn't give a penalty for that, I guess he wasn't looking," Gustafsson said. "It's okay. Mo and Rolfie got him for me."
Mo (Mulvey) was enjoying a seat on top of Holt, punching away, while play continued at the other end of the ice just before the Capitals' concluding goal. Rolfie (Edberg) blasted Holt against the boards late in the game.
Gartner made it 3-0 early in the third period, taking a beautiful pass from Mulvey to complete a two-on-one break after Hangsleben had pulled down puck carrier Paul Reinhart in the Capitals' end. It was from defenseman Reinhart's vacated area that Gartner pulled the trigger.
Willie Plett's rebound of Pekka Rautakallio's shot put Calgary on the scoreboard, then Vail made it closer with his drive, on which goal judge Gus Connery withheld judgement until after Wicks had whistled a halt and allowed the score.
But Gartner put it away and then Vail finalized the result by tripping ex-Flame Jean Pronovost with 1:58 remaining.
"Our forwards put excellent pressure on their defensemen," Green said. "They forced them to cough up the puck on a couple of key occasions. That was our game plan."
"We've been loose in our end, but we haven't done anything like that before," Calgary Coach Al MacNeil said.
The Capitals played without defensemen Rick Green, who accepted a plaque as Capital of the month for October and commented, "It looks like I'll have a lot of time to hang it." It is feared Green has a fractured right wrist."
The new pairing of Hangsleben and Pat Ribble was especially adept at blocking shots and clearing the slot, as the entire six-man defensive corps played a solid game.
"With Green out, everybody has to pull together and do their job as well as his," Veitch said. "He carried a big load. We'll just have to try and pick it up."