The Washington Capitals passed another big test last night by whipping the Montreal Canadiens, 5-2, before a sellout crowd of 18,130 at Capital Centre. The victory, only the second in 41 games against Montreal, left the turnaround Capitals little to prove to unbelievers, as their unbeaten streak reached seven games, matching a club record.
Rookie Chris Valentine produced his second game-winning goal in three games to snap a 2-2 tie late in the second period and scores by Gaetan Duchesne and Bob Gould padded the margin as Washington dominated the final 20 minutes.
Goalie Mike Palmateer blocked 27 shots in his third straight solid performance, and got his first assist this season.
The Capitals try to make it eight tonight in Hartford, where they beat the Whalers, 4-0, two weeks ago. Palmateer probably will get the call once more, since Dave Parro's bruised left shoulder continues to keep him out of action.
Goals by Ryan Walter and Greg Theberge gave Washington an early 2-0 lead, as Palmateer's acrobatics and a smattering of luck kept the Canadiens off the scoreboard. Then an untimely double minor against the newest Capital, Randy Holt, reversed the momentum.
Larry Robinson scored 15 seconds after Holt was caught hooking and elbowing Montreal's Guy Lafleur. The Capitals killed the second minor but things were looking black for them when Pierre Larouche tied the score at 14:02 of the second period.
The Canadiens kept pressing, but in the last minute before intermission Palmateer cleared the puck to Mike Gartner, who passed ahead to Valentine. He lost possession and the puck slid into Montreal ice, where defenseman Guy Lapointe had a chance to pick it up. But instead he backpedaled, permitting Valentine to fire a shot that deflected off the stick of goalie Richard Sevigny and into the net.
"I lost the puck when Gartner gave it to me and I thought Lapointe would pick it up," Valentine said. "But he kept backing up, maybe because he was tired. I know I was tired. I just tried to use him as a screen and it went in."
"That was a big goal, the fact that we were able to get a lead," said Coach Bryan Murray. "Sevigny didn't make the save, which he could have, and Lapointe didn't stand up. Lapointe, I thought, was fairly hesitant in the contact part all night. I know I looked at the Montreal bench and could make out some swear words."
Despite the lead, Murray was not all that happy himself.
"I was pretty upset at the end of the second period, because there wasn't that much effort from some guys out there," Murray said. "Only three or four defensemen and maybe one centerman were working. But they responded and worked hard in the third period. They showed the character that had become evident in the last week and a half."
Gould cut through the slot and fired a testing backhander at Sevigny, who deflected the puck behind the net. Duchesne reached around and poked the puck under the goalie to make it 4-2 at 2:30.
Gould put the icing on the holiday cake with 8:13 remaining. Brian Engblom stubbed a shot at the other end and Walter pounced on the puck to begin a two-on-one break. Sevigny blocked Gould's first shot, but he followed up the rebound for his first goal as a Capital. It was 5-2 and very noisy in Capital Centre.
The goal was the first for Gould since the second game of the season, when he scored three times against St. Louis. Scoreless in the next 14 games, he was sent to Oklahoma City, from where Washington resurrected him Tuesday.
"We were just looking for somebody solid to go up and down on the third line," Murray said. "Bobby has done that and now he's starting to go to the net. He could be a big plus for us."
The happiest Capitals were Valentine, a 10th-round draft choice who grew up in Montreal and will mark his 20th birthday Dec. 6, and Duchesne, an eighth-round pick from Quebec City who will be 20 in July.
"It was quite a thrill just being on the same ice with Guy Lafleur," Valentine said. "I saw the Canadiens win four Stanley Cups and to think I was playing against them was really something."
"I feel very, very good," Duchesne said. "Last year I see the Canadiens and Nordiques on television and now I'm on the ice with Lafleur and those other guys. To score a goal and beat Montreal, it's great. And the best is that my mother got a radio and can listen to the games."
Naturally, for every joyous moment, there must be a few unhappy notes.
"We had 10 or 12 guys out there working hard and some other guys who just didn't give a bleep," said Bob Berry, suffering his fifth defeat in 22 games as the Canadiens' coach.
Asked what he thought of the Capitals, Berry replied, "I don't give a bleep about the Capitals."
As for Holt's performance, which virtually turned the game around, Murray could afford to be charitable.
"I was concerned about that and we'll discuss it," Murray said. "I wanted to give him some ice time and make him part of it. He was caught late in the shift and I really believe he thought he could take a man off with him. He just picked the wrong guy. Lafleur won't get involved."