The Washington Capitals, after seven years, finally begged the snipe. In the sweetest of victories, one that will make that Christmas turkey taste like pheasant under glass, the Capitals turned on the truculent Philadelphia Flyers in their own snake pit at the Spectrum tonight and celebrated an unfathomable 6-0 triumph.
The Capitals survived every bit of skulduggery the Flyers could devise, in a game that produced 344 penalty minutes, as well as 44 Philadelphia shots, to terminate a strangehold that had stretched through 25 games. Here at the Sprectrum, Washington had lost all 12 games, by a combined score of 71-26.
Never before, however, had the Captials come here with Mike Palmateer in goal. He was unbelieveable, particularly in the first seven minutes of the game, when he turned back 14 Flyer shots. It will come as no surprise that the only goalie to blank the Flyers here last season was Palmateer, then with Toronto.
"I'll be more excited tomorrow, but right now I'm too tired to be overly excited," said Palmateer. "This is the first time I've played two nights in a row since last Christmas and I'm a little weary, a little stiff. But I can't say that tonight, can I?
"You've got to get psyched up against Philly, the best team in the league, or you can't beat them. But you can't do it by yourself. The guys played a whale of a game out there."
There was a long list of Capital stars on a night that the team was missing seven regulars out with injuries. Dennis Maruk produced the game-winning goal, the only score of a first period in which the Capitals were outshot, 21-10.Yvon Labre gave everybody some breathing room with his first goal in two years. Jean Pronovost scored two within two minutes, including the first short-handed goal against the Flyers this season. Ryan Walter and rookie Tim Tookey closed the scoring.
Archie Henderson, in his NHL debut as a sub for injured Bengt Gustafsson, took on unbeaten Flyer bully boy Behn Wilson in two brawls and survived to laugh about it.Rick Green was brilliant on defense, and he had able assistance from Darren Veitch, called back to replace gimpy-kneed Pat Ribble. Howard Walker and Jim McTaggart were cool performers on the backline, too.
Then there was that old snipe hunter, Bob Kelly, who had kept telling his new teammates that his old club could be beaten, if everyone gave a full 60-minute effort. A bevy of signs welcomed Kelly back to his home rink of 10 years, including one that remembered a rookie prank: "Welcome Back Snipe Hunter."
The Capitals' quest for a first victory over the Flyers must have seemed as ill-fated as Kelly's New Jersey snipe hunt to many, after the Flyers' 5-2 victory at Capital Centre Saturday. And the way Philly poured on the pressure in the early minutes made one wonder when the breakthrough would come. pIt never did occur, and the Capitals enjoyed not only a night of glory, but the thought of inevitable future success.
"We won with hard work," Kelly said. "What you may lack in talent you have to pick up in heart. Wherever the action was, five guys were there to help each other out. Toby Wison is the toughest guy in the league and I've never seen him lose a fight, but Archie took him on and held his own. That has to give everybody a lift. In the long range, this will help the team, knowing we walked in here and did a hell of a job."
The game was only 19 seconds old before a fight between McTaggart and Philadelphia's Ken Linseman erupted into a battle that sent every player on the ice to the penalty box, with Dave Newell handing out 94 minutes in sentences, primarily for failing to go to neutral corners.
With 4:36 gone, eight Capitals and seven Flyers were crammed into the penalty boxes, and a Philadelphia power play produced five shots on goal, with the puck never leaving the Washington end. Finally gaining relief, Palmateer knelt on the ice; a minute later, he needed treatment for a cramp, after blocking three more shots seconds apart.
"I didn't want to get up any sooner than I had to," Palmateer said. "Sometimes all those fights break your concentration, but tonight, particularly in the first period, I enjoyed the rest."
The second Henderson-Wilson battle brought the Flyer an extra minor for the high stick that got it started. then Flyer Frank Bathe went off for interference and the Capitals utilized the two-man advantage to record their second power-play goal in the last 30 opportunities.
Paul Mulvey, sticking in front despite the slashing of goalie Phil Myre, provided the screen that enabled Maruk to score his 23rd goal, the first in seven games.
Midway through the second period, Labre followed up three shots by Kelly, lifting the puck over the fallen Myre. While Labre celebrated, leaping up and down, Flyer Blake Wesley broke his stick over the crossbar. The Flyers were not lightly accepting their first loss in their last 17 home games.
It's only right that I should score," said Labre, an original Capital who had suffered through so many defeats at the hands of the Flyers. "I was sweeping by and nobody took me, so I kept coming. I just batted it and went past the net and looked back. I couldn't believe it was in.
"This will make for a shorter ride home and a good Christmas. But you know what I said when we'd wrapped it up? I said, 'I'm going in there and sign that garbage can.'"
It was in Oakland in March 1975, after 37 straight road defeats, that the Capitals celebrated their first foreign-ice victory by signing their names to a waste basket, the poor man's Stanley Cup.
With 61 seconds left in the second period, a Linseman shot was blocked by Palmateer and caromed off the side boards. Pronovost beat Flyer Terry Murray to the puck at the center ice and beat Myre with a perfect shot to the glove side. It was the first time Washington ever had led the Flyers by three goals.
Forty-five seconds into the third period, Pronovost scored again, short-handed. He poked the puck away from Flyer Bill Barber to send Wes Jarvis in on a breakaway. Then, after Myre stopped Jarvis, the puck caromed to the left-wing circle and Pronovost took a backhanded swipe that resulted in a goal.
"It was like a sand wedge to the green," Pronovost said. "Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't."
There was still some concern when, with 10-29 remaining, Linseman threw an elbow at McTaggart and was quickly pounded to the ice. Everybody became involved and Newell handed out majors and misconducts to all involved, plus an extra minor to McTaggart. Since Flyer Paul Holmgren was in the penalty box with four seconds left to serve and there was an extra Capital in the melee, Newell's ruling created a Flyer power play for 6:56. It ended after 2:59 when Flyer Reg Leach was given a major for slashing Veitch in the nose with his stick.
"I was thinking shutout and then I panicked with that seven-minute power play," Palmateer said. "I found myself on my knees thanking Veitchie for getting cut and ending it."
Henderson had perhaps the most appropriate words to cap the club's greatest accomplishment: "I've been waiting a long time, four years to play in the NHL, and this makes it so much better, being part of history."