The Pittsburgh Penguins arrived at Capital Centre at 6:50 last night, 15 minutes before the scheduled faceoff. The way things have been going for the Capitals lately, club director Albert Cohen wondered whether Washington could claim a forfeit.
It couldn't, of course, and once the game got under way 63 minutes late, the Capitals had a lot more fun winning on the ice. Washington chased Michel Dion, the all-star goalie for the Prince of Wales Conference, with six scores in the first 27 minutes and routed Pittsburgh, 8-3.
Eight players scored for the Capitals, who were beating the Penguins for the first time after three straight defeats. In the process, Washington moved within 14 points of Pittsburgh, the team it must overtake to gain a playoff berth.
Asked if he still thought the playoffs were a possibility, Washington Coach Bryan Murray said, "Very definitely. We have four more contests with Pittsburgh and we have to win all of those and a lot of other hockey games. But we think we now have the players to do it."
Pittsburgh was delayed because fog forced diversion of its flight to Norfolk and the team then had a 3 1/2-hour bus ride. Nevertheless, the Penguins came out slugging and slashing, as befits their rank as the NHL's penalty leaders.
By game's end, there had been six fights and the folks at home watching "Slap Shot" on television were not getting too different a view of hockey from the 9,650 in the Centre.
"They seem to try to run us in the first period of every game, and the first few games I think we let them; not tonight," said Mike Gartner, who ended a seven-game goal-scoring drought besides contributing three assists.
A bruised instep idled Timo Blomqvist and Washington went with five defensemen. It could have been a problem, since Rick Green was playing only his second game after a two-week layoff. But except for the first 10 minutes of the third period, with the outcome already obvious, the Capitals stood up well.
"It's nice to know when you have a layoff of that length of time, that you can come back and get your timing back so quick," said Green, who enjoyed a plus-four night. "It was a little bit tougher starting the second period, but as the period went on I started to get my strength back."
"The forwards were forechecking and forcing the play," said defenseman Terry Murray, also plus-four with a goal and two assists. "If they're forechecking and coming back with their men, it makes things simple. This is really a simple game if you play it right."
It was a bit confusing at the start, as the teams exchanged shorthanded breakaways. Bobby Carpenter connected for Washington, on the 11th such score yielded by Pittsburgh, the league leader in that department. George Ferguson matched it for the Penguins, the seventh Washington has allowed.
The next tradeoff came in power-play goals, with Chris Valentine scoring for Washington and Mike Bullard equalizing with the first of his two goals.
Tom Rowe, worn out by game's end with his involvement in three fights, scored his first Washington goal in more than two years late in the first period. It put the Capitals ahead to stay.
Pittsburgh was fogbound in the second period, managing only two shots on goalie Dave Parro while the Capitals were scoring on four of 11 shots.
Bengt Gustafsson made it 4-2 on a jam from behind, Dennis Maruk tied his club record of last season with his 16th power-play goal, Murray scored his fourth career NHL goal and Ryan Walter got his 25th of the season.
Murray, possessor of an excellent slap shot, scored from the right point and he was asked later why he did not shoot more often.
"Every coach I ever played for has told me to shoot," Murray said. "But when I get the puck at the blueline, 99 percent of the time I'm looking for a man to pass to. It's a bad habit I picked up long ago."
Last night, no bad habits were visible.