It was foxhole hockey, the barrage as wicked as anyone could imagine: four minutes, seven shots, five goals.
"Right at the start of the game," Michel Dion was saying. "One went off a skate; three different times I thought they (the Islanders) had guys alone in front of the net. Eddie (Pittsburgh Coach Johnston) asked me was I all right, and I said: 'Was that a hurricane or tornado, or what?' Never seen or experienced anything like it.
"Mike Bossy came up and said: 'Feel sorry for ya.'
"Bryan Trottier said: 'Thought you were going to retire.' "
Dion did, for the rest of the game. But there was good news waiting in the dressing room: on the second most embarrassing night of his puck snatching life, Dion was told he'd been chosen for the NHL All-Star Game.
The more they thought about it the less excited Washington Capital fans became over Dion's goalkeeping Tuesday night. As the starter for the Prince of Wales Conference, he played splendidly in the 4-2 victory over the Campbell Conference after a shaky start.
But devoted Cap watchers surely caught themselves in midclap as Dion left the ice after his designated 30 minutes of all-star duty. Hmmmm, they thought, looks as though this Penguin's got his early season form again. And if he's this good the rest of the way, our playoff chances are zilch.
"I felt fine for the first time in at least three weeks," he said after his first all-star show. "It was the most intense I've been since the (Dec. 23) injury. It felt really good to be able to spill your heart out like that again, to get involved the way you should be."
Washington's movement upward in the Patrick Division standings, to 11 points behind Pittsburgh for the final playoff spot, has coincided with Dion's dilemmas for much of two months.
First, the hamstring trouble.
"Happened with about a minute left in the game (against Toronto)," he said. "Kind of a scramble, and when I tried to get up somehow my legs were spread apart and I got hit on the outside part of both of them. I felt a tear (in the upper left leg), some kind of click.
"I kept playing, and with about three seconds left I made a spread-eagle save, kicked the puck away with my (left) skate (to preserve a 4-4 tie), and right there and then I knew I was gonna be out for a while."
Two weeks, six games to be exact.
"The worst thing was that while I was out we got struggling," he said.
When Dion came back, pucks began whistling past him as never before. He'd earned the all-star spot with goalkeeping that approached heroic at times the first 35 or so games. The combination of the team going sour and his trying to regain his timing resulted in some horrid experiences.
The Caps routed him.
The Islanders shelled him with those five goals in 248 seconds.
Saturday, it got worse. He made a wonderful save, but with his forehead.
"Knocked out for about five minutes," he said. "Got up to finish the period, but I don't think I was all there. So Eddie said he was going to put somebody in who could see. He gave me a breather Sunday to get me mentally prepared (for the All-Star Game)."
Having played no more than 25 minutes in a game for more than a week, Dion arrived here rusty mentally and physically, privately pouting until he finally talked himself into flicking every negative thought aside.
"I'd got knocked out just when I was starting to feel strong again from the first injury," he said, "so I was thinking: 'Why? I don't deserve this.' Then I thought: 'You get hurt, so what? Don't feel sorry for yourself. Don't gripe. Accept it and go on.' "
Dion surrendered an early goal, then recovered to stop a breakaway by Mark Messier that might have started a Campbell Conference victory surge. Other flicks and flops followed, Dion's only later sin being unable to stop the game's greatest scorer, Wayne Gretzky, one on one in the first 26 seconds of the second period.
That tied the score at 2-2, although Dion insisted the Wales team still was in control of the game. He was right.
If December 1981 was frustrating physically for Dion, December 1980 was maddening. With Quebec at the time, his on- and off-ice problems boiled so badly that during a game against Boston he simply quit. Waved at a puck going past him into the net and then bye-bye. To the amazement even of those who assume goalies are wired differently from the rest of us, Dion glided off the ice and into the dressing room.
"In one way, that was the low point of my career," he said, "but it's also been a great victory (coming back). They say that when you fall down in life sometimes you bounce back up higher than ever before."
He soon was waived to Winnipeg, the worst team in the NHL last season, more awful even than the Caps. Later, he was signed by Pittsburgh when former goalie Johnston saw that part of Dion's trouble was that he couldn't see. Right. Here was a man in his late 20s being paid to stop 100-mile-per-hour pucks and his eyes were going bad. A goalie who lets in shots from the blueline, as Dion frequently had, is dangerous--to his team and himself.
"I'm not allowed to drive in Pennsylvania without glasses," he said, laughing. "The eye trouble had been coming on; I just had been negligent in doing something about it."
With contacts, Dion was sensational for the Penguins before the December doldrums that lasted until Tuesday night in Capital Centre. That would be cruelly ironic for Washington: the major factor in the Caps finally making the playoffs possibly rejuvenated in their own building.