Somebody must have broken a mirror when the Washington Capitals started training camp in 1974. They completed seven years of bad luck last night by once again tumbling out of playoff contention.
Despite a 7-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, in which Dennis Maruk became Washington's first 50-goal scorer, the Capitals would up in 17th place, one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Quebec Nordiques, who swept their four-game series with Washington, finished the season winless against toronto as they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Leafs in Le Colisee. That score, which became final as the Washington players tool on the ice posing for the annual picture night, wiped out the only goal that mattered to the Capitals.
Maruk became the 28th player in NHL history to reach the 50-goal mark and posted his eighth career hat trick, fourth and season. But he said it all when he murmured, "It doesn't mean anything."
General Manager Max McNab called the countdown "Chinese water torture" and nobody was arguing. This was the second year in a row the Capitals' playoff hopes came down to the last game of the season before evaporating.
The Capitals did everything possible to help themselves, but as they awaited the results they had to think back to the previous six home games, none of which they were able to win.
This time they jumped in front after 11 seconds, built a 4-1 lead in the first period and had nothing left to worry about except the Maple Leafs. There was nothing but speculation on that account, because Coach Gary Green prohibited the announcing of the scoring over the public-address system.
"What's the score?" was the cry of both fans and players, and when it was revealed at the conclusion of the Capitals' victory that Toronto was leading, 3-2, two-goal scorer Tim Tookey said, "Damn it, I thought Quebec was winning 3 to 1."
"I didn't want the players thinking about it," Green said. "There was nothing we could do about it and I thoughtit might throw them off. I apologize to the fans for the inconvenience."
Detroit sought a delay in the start, because goalie Larry Lozinski broke a skate in the warmup. The Capitals refused and before Lozinski made his appearance after 3 minutes 21 seconds, Washington had taken two shots and collected two goals against rookie Claude Legris, playing only his second NHL game.
Glen Currie became the third Capital in history to score at the 11-second mark, as Rick Green hammered the puck in fron the red line and Ryan Walter beat Legris to it begind the net. Walter's pass left Currie with nothing but twine for a target.
Brid Smith pulled the Wings even at 1:53, converting Jim Korn's pass from the left wing. But Tookey scored on a power play off Bengt Gustafson's perfect feed while Lozinski was waiting for a whistle to enter the ice grom the dressing room.
Maruk broke the game open with two goals before the period ended. His first cam on a shot that popped off Lozinski's glove into the net while the Wings stood around anticipating a delayed penalty on teammate John Barrett for pulling down Mike Gartner.
With 41 seconds left in the period, Maruk deflected Howard Walker's drive from the left point on another power play.
After Mark Kirton pulled the Wings to 4-2 in the second period, Gartner netted his 48th goal early in the third to wrap it up. It was Washington's third extra-man score, the fifth time this season the Capitals were able to reach that figure.
Gartner scored a point in 18 of his last 19 games, failing only Saturday on Long Island, when a check by Dave Langevin left him coughing blood. Gartner spent the night in Prince George's General Hospital, but was released when X-rays and other tests showed him to be all right.
Maruk completed his hat trick on a pass out of the right-wing corner by Bob Kelly and hats of every description flew onto the ice while Maruk danced around and the 12,531 spectators celebrated.
"It was a good play by Bob, I was left all alone," Maruk said. "It was an excellent play and I just had to make sure I put it in. But 50 means nothing to me now.The playoffs were everything. At least we didn't give up.We just kept going."
Tookey closed the scoring in the final minute, then it was waiting time. The players received several awards, with fans all the while screaming, "What's the score?" There were optimistic speeches, with Ryan Walter receiving a prize as "players' player" and saying, "In another hour I'm sure we'll be in the playoffs."
Maruk was given awards as top scorer -- he finished with 97 points -- and season three-star winner and said, "We're still waiting. We're just gong to pray that Quebec will defeat Toronto."
Walker was named rookie of the year, Currie was chosen most improved, Green was anmed the best defenseman and Gustafsson and selected fans' favorite. Then the players retreated to the dressing room for a quick sip of soda, but soon were back on the ice for the picture taking.
While they posd and signed autographs, they listened to the public-address system and the toronto broadcast of the big one in Quebec. When the Leafs pulled ahead, 4-2, they kept on signing, but their heads were down.
They no longer were praying. As usual, there has been on answer.