The last two times they played the Washington Capitals, the Buffalo Sabres went into a defensive shell, blew third-period leads of three and two goals and wound up fit to be tied. Last night, while 18,130 fans awaited another miracle comeback at Capital Centre, the Sabres sounded a "Charge" of their own and whipped the Capitals, 7-4.
Outshot, 13-5, over the last 20 minutes, the Captials nevertheless kept the folks excited to the end. Dennis Ververgaert scored his ninth goal of the season with 2:08 remaining to lift Washington within 5-4 and in the next minute there were a couple of good opportunities for the Capitals to tie it.
But Don Luce converted a two-on-one break with 1:10 to play and Jim Schoenfeld concluded the scoring into an empty net as the Sabres sent the Capitals to their eighth loss in the last 11 games.
It was a Pyrrhic victory for Buffalo. Star center Gil Perreault crashed into a goal post in the second miniute of the game and suffered three cracked ribs. He wrapped around the post so hard, after being tripped on the breakaway by Pat Ribble, that there was instant fear he might have punctured a lung.
Perreault rose to his feet, then leaned on goalie Mike Palmateer. Persuaded to lie on the ice, Perreault was immobilized, strapped in a stretcher, ahd carried off by teammates.
"I can't believe they can't do something about those nets," said Buffalo Coach Roger Neilson. "In Europe the net come off when they're hit. It's an inconvenience but it't better than injuries like this. Surely, they can construct a hinge deal so if there's enough pressure it'll knock it off. When guys go in that hard, they have to stop play anyway."
Washington was not without its injury problem, as Bengt Gustafsson collided with teammate Guy Charron in the third period and strained his left shoulder, the one that was dislocated in December.
Rick Smith sent Washington into a 1-0 lead on a shot from the right point that deflected into the net off the skate of a Buffalo defenseman. Before the first period ended, however, Buffalo had gone ahead on socres by John Van Boxmeer, Danny Gare and Craig Ramsey.
Gare, who had missed the last two games with muscle spasms in his back, scored a sensational goal on a power play. Gare got around defenseman Howard Walker and cut across the crease from the right-wing circle. As Palmateer dove at him, Gare pushed the puck ahead, avoided the goalie, regained possession and pushed a backhander into the net.
Dennis Maruk brought the Capitals within one goal with his 29th early in the second period and seemingly was ready to tie it when he took a perfect pass from Jean Pronovost with half the net beckoning. Maruk hit the post, however, and moments later, at the other end, Gare deflected a long drive by Tony McKegney to make it 4-2.
"That kind of thing seems to be our luck," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "It chaps your rear end, but what can you do about it?"
Mike Gartner's 26th goal brought Washington boack within one and also brought the crowd to its feet. Skating across the middle from the left wing, Gartner faked Schoenfeld to the ice, then kept on going and came in from the other direction to beat goalie Don Edwards on the short side.
One goal down entering the final period, the Capitals prepared once again to crack the Sabre shell. Instead, they were virtually overwhelmed by the fury of the Buffalo attack. Alan Haworth rebounded a Lindy Ruff breakaway shot to make it 5-3 and only some classy Palmateer saves kept it close enough for Ververgeert to throw in his scare.
"I thought we played a strong game tonight and except for Mike Palmateer we could have been in double figures," Neilson said. "We've been having really good third periods and we have to hope we keep coming. When Perreault got hurt, it seemed to pickk everybody up. That rookie line (Haworth, Ruff and Rob McClanahan) was playing together for the first time and they really did a job."
The Sabres, losers only once in 11 January games, now own a share of fifth place.
Maruk's goal was the first scored by the Capital's Roaring Twenties, as a line, since Dec. 31.