In his first year in Washington, the world's most political city, Mike Palmateer has learned a hard, political truth: This may be the era of lowered expectations, but when you make a promise, when you guarantee the playoffs, the constituents expect you to deliver.
Tonight, he did.
Palmaterr made 35 saves as the Washington Capitals beat the Bruins for the first time in a shrine they call a Garden and made Palmateer's promise good for yet another night.
"Yeah," he said, softly, "it's (the expectations) kinda my fault. It's one of my bad points. No, it's one of my good points, it just comes out bad. I'm supposed to say we're going to make it. I'm supposed to act confident. If you don't act confident, what else can you do? There's no way you're going to say we're not going to do it. What am I supposed to say?"
Of late, Palmateer has been saying little. On March 18 against Quebec, he gave up five goals in the first 35 minutes and was taken out of the game. The next day, the Caps brought up Gary Inness and Palmateer was taken out of goal for two games. But before the game against Philadelphia, he went to General Manager Max McNab and said he wanted to play.
"They gave me a couple of days off, to get away from the Capital Centre, to get my head together," Palmateer said. "I'm sure it did (help). Sometimes when things don't go all that great, it's hard to turn it around, no matter how much you want to. I had a long talk with Roger Crozier (assistant general manager) before the Philadelphia game. He gave me some pointers, helped me get back into my own game. Maybe I was trying to do too much."
The Caps beat Philadelphia, 5-2, and Palmateer stopped 34 shots. Two days later, he shut out Detroit, also on the road, 2-0.
"I've played as well as I've ever played in the last two weeks," Palmateer said. "But everyone keeps bringing up Quebec."
He was asked what the difference was in tonight's game, a typical post-game question. His cherubic face brightened for a moment and he said, "I was," before quickly taking it back. He has learned to be politic.
But defenseman Rick Green didn't have to be. "He came up with some key saves and saved us in key situations," Green said. "He really worked for us tonight. He was the difference."
With his curly reddish hair, Palmateer looks like a raggedy Andy doll, flopping, kicking, flailing on the ice. With 13 seconds remaining in the game, and Rick Middleton planted in front of Palmateer with the puck, the Bruins had every chance, and their last chance to tie it up. Middleton took the shot and Palmateer squeezed the puck between his legs. His teammates gave him a pat on the pads, the way they always do, win or lose.
Coach Gary Green said, "He was exceptional. He likes the pressure of the road games. Everyone has always said about Mike Palmateer, when it comes to the clutch, he performs."
Palmateer said, "I think I play better when the chips are down. But I don't want to get too cocky.
"When you play on the road, the way I look at it, we all have to play really well and I have to get hot," he said. "At home, maybe they expect too much."
At home, they have great expectations.
So these three wins on the road must mean a lot to Palmateer, right? "Yeah," he said, "considering all the flak you guys have been giving me back home."
But you must be feeling pretty good right now?
"I feel good. I feel good inside. There's no sense in saying what I feel because it always comes out wrong."
"Always," he said.
But, there was no denying that this was a special win for the Capitals, and especailly for Palmateer. "I've had a couple of special ones. Philadelphia. Boston." He paused and smiled. "And tomorrow when we beat the Islanders."