The Washington Capitals and Hartford Whalers came to the end of a long weekend last night. It proved longer for the Whalers, because the Capitals hung on to win the battle between tired teams at Capital Centre, 3-2.
Washington had a dozen chances to make this one an easier victory, but after Hartford's Pat Boutette produced the final score of the game with 18:15 remaining, the Capitals were strictly hanging on.
Hearts beat faster among the crowd of 10,036 when the Capitals' sixth unsuccessful power play of the night created a shorthanded two-on-one break for Hartford with four minutes left. Goalie Dave Parro, winning his third straight, foiled that one with a fine save on Al Sims.
There was more anxiety when Parro blocked a shot by Dave Keon with a minute remaining and the puck flipped up in the air. Paul Mulvey dove into the crease to block as much shooting space as possible before Parro was able to smother the puck.
"I thought I had it, then I saw the puck on the ice and I thought, 'Holy mackerel,'" Parro said. "The guys sure covered up for me. Mo (Mulvey) said he played goal as a kid."
With Hartford goalie John Garrett out of his net for a sixth forward, Pat Ribble extended the time of decision by lining a long shot over the crossbar. It enabled the Whalers to mount one more attack before the buzzer brought a feeling of relief to the Washington contingent.
"It was our third game in four nights and Hartford played last night, too, so we were not exactly up and down going at it," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "Then the ice was a little soft in the third period, since this was a doubleheader day here.
"We didn't play badly. We didn't play with our usual zip and intensity, but that's understandable. After their second goal, we were just trying to make sure we did not get caught on a two-on-one or something like that."
Bengt Gustafsson, who has been playing brilliantly since he returned from that lengthy road trip and regained some of the 12 pounds he lost, scored the Capitals' first goal. Mike Gartner put a fake on Sims and passed into the slot, where Rolf Edberg fired one shot a Garrett before Gustafsson netted the rebound for his 15th of the season.
Mike Rogers' 32nd goal pulled Hartford even, as Rogers connected from the left-wing circle with Mulvey off for punishing Jack McIlhargey. The goal ended a shutout string of 119 minutes 1 second for Parro.
Fifty-seven seconds later, Ryan Walter duplicated Rogers' shot at the other end, putting Washington ahead to stay. It was Walter's 16th goal, his third in two games.
Dennis Ververgaert scored the eventual winner at 8:25 of the second period, hitting from the right-wing circle after Wes Jarvis won a faceoff from Rogers a few feet in front of where Ververgaert let loose with a cannon shot.
Those were the scoring plays for Washington. The nonscorers were far more numerous, and not merely the 31 saves recorded by Garrett, who had a fine night.
With the Capitals leading, 1-0, Gartner pulled Garrett out of the net, then fed Gustafsson, whose backhander was blocked in the goal mouth by defenseman Mickey Volcan, at 18 the youngest player in the NHL.
A few minutes later, Jean Pronovost scored an apparent goal after collecting the puck off the end boards, but it was nullified at a two-line pass.
Late in the second period, Jarvis broke free on a short-handed breakaway, to be tripped by Boutette. Then, with Ribble back from the box and Washington on a power play, Gustafsson broke loose, to be pulled down in front by Norm Barnes.
The Whalers were two men short for 33 seconds and during that time a Gartner shot caromed into the crease. Garrett reached behind and pulled the puck off the goal line. Capitals and fans protested that it was over, but referee Bryan Lewis was in perfect position and immediately waved no goal.
Rick Green whistled a slap shot off the spot where post and crossbar meet early in the third period. Boutette reduced the Capitals' lead to 3-2 moments later and there was fear all those close calls would come back to haunt Washington later. Thanks to Parro and a little bit of luck, they didn't.
Washington played most of the third period without defenseman Howard Walker, who was jammed in the right hand by the butt end of a stick. Hartford's Tom Rowe, the ex-Capital, took a center-ice check from Walker in the second period and left for the night with a charley horse in his right leg.
After the game, the Capitals were told to clear out quickly, so that the Secret Service could check the premises prior to Monday's Inaugural gala. There was no problem about compliance. This was the kind of victory that is gratefully recorded in the standings, without much reason to stay around and brag.