When the Calgary Flames took a 2-0 lead in the first seven minutes of last night's game at Capital Centre, boobirds in the gathering of 7,641 quickly jumped off the Washington Capitals' newly respectable bandwagon. Oh, ye of little faith.
With Mike Gartner scoring three goals and rookie Torrie Robertson two, the Capitals came roaring back to smother the Flames, 9-3. It was the fifth NHL hat trick for Gartner, who had managed only five goals in the first 23 games this season while playing with a bruised right hand. Gartner added two assists for his second five-point game in two weeks and fired 11 shots on goal.
"I don't like to say anything after a one-game performance, but it sure feels good," Gartner said. "I was skating well tonight, but the main thing was that I was getting the puck. Bobby (Carpenter), Wes (Jarvis) and Bengt Gustafsson were all giving me the puck. When you're getting the puck and going full speed, you can make defensive defensemen look pretty slow."
The ponderous Flames are one of the NHL's slowest clubs, a failing that does not seem to harm them in the cozy Stampede Corral, where they built a six-game unbeaten streak before coming here. Last night's setback, however, left them with a road mark of 1-9-2.
Goalie Al Jensen, having replaced ailing regulars Dave Parro and Mike Palmateer, allowed two goals in Calgary's first four shots, then blocked 25 of the next 26 in an outstanding performance. He was helped by another fine job from the defensive tandem of Rick Green (plus five) and Terry Murray (plus three).
"I was just a little nervous at the start, but I felt confident by the third period," Jensen said. "I was glad just to get a chance and I was glad the team played so well in front of me. Getting nine goals really helped. Now I'll just have to wait and see."
Robertson, scoring his first two NHL goals in his sixth game over two seasons, also is uncertain of his future, since he was called up from Hershey specifically to face the big, aggressive Flames.
"I'm not sure of anything, except that it was nice to get those goals," Robertson said. "Last year in Calgary I scored a goal that was disallowed, so I figured they owed me a couple. I was just told to skate up and down the wing and hit as much as I could and the goals just happened to come."
Perhaps the happiest Capital, or at least the most relieved, was Bob Gould. Dealt here by Calgary a week ago, Gould gave away the puck early in the first period, permitting Denis Cyr to score on a two-on-nobody break. But Gould rebounded to play an outstanding game and scored his second goal as a Capital on a solo effort in the third period.
"I guess I got a goal and an assist tonight," he said. "That was a pretty stupid play at the start. It feels great now that it's over. They're a good bunch of guys, but you always like to beat the team that got rid of you."
After Gould's gift, Jim Peplinski scored right off a faceoff in Washington ice and it was 2-0, with the Flames' goals coming 73 seconds apart.
The Capitals matched them with a pair within 35 seconds, as Ryan Walter hit on a power-play shot off Gustafsson's fine pass and Robertson converted Jarvis' feed with a well-placed shot over the left shoulder of goalie Rejean Lemelin.
"After the first period, the game was up for grabs," Gartner said. "They didn't want it and we didn't want it."
The Capitals quickly proved they wanted it in the second period.
It took only 15 seconds for Gartner to put Washington ahead to stay, deflecting Murray's drive with each team a man short. Gartner made it 4-2 on a rebound of Carpenter's shot, then Robertson's midair rebound of Greg Theberge's blast made it 5-2. After Cyr caromed his second goal off a post, Lemelin mishandled a 50-footer by Carpenter and it was 6-3.
Gould's backhander off Lemelin's skate padded the lead in the third period. Dennis Maruk collected his 17th goal, hitting the short side after faking a pass on a two-on-one break. Then hats flew as Gartner scored off Carpenter's pass with 42 seconds remaining.