The Washington Capitals alleviated their double-digit depression tonight. Scoring twice with the goaltender pulled in delayed-penalty situations, the Capitals whipped the Los Angeles Kings, 5-2, and moved within nine points of Pittsburgh in the race for a playoff spot. It marked the first time since Oct. 31 Washington had been fewer than 10 points behind the Penguins.
"Nine more to go, guys," Dennis Maruk screamed in the tumultuous Washington dressing room afterward. It was Maruk who completed the scoring with one second left, an empty netter that gave him 47 goals and 99 points on the season. He had shattered his own club record of 97 points with an earlier assist.
In evening their record at 2-2 on the current road trip, the Capitals won with a less-than-peak performance, and the 35-save effort of goalie Al Jensen helped make up for some obvious deficiencies.
"I think they were sitting around their hotel rooms too long," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We were not really sharp at any time. But Jensen after sitting out more than a week went in and played very well.
"I can sense it in the room now. The guys are starting to believe that we can catch Pittsburgh."
Jensen, making his first appearance since Feb. 7, blocked 14 first-period shots and the Capitals, limited to six, reached the intermission with a 1-0 lead.
Lee Norwood produced the goal, his first as a Capital, at 7:50. Norwood, obtained from Quebec Feb. 1, deflected Darren Veitch's blast from the right point past goalie Mario Lessard.
The goal came during a delayed penalty against the Kings, incurred when Glen Currie was cross-checked down in the Washington end. Currie rose and was a factor in the play, as Washington showed outstanding puck control in maintaining possession while a sixth skater temporarily replaced Jensen.
It was the 10th straight time the opposition scored the first goal of the game against the Kings, who had won only two of their last 24 games.
Los Angeles came out fast and built a 6-1 shooting edge in the first six minutes. Jim Fox hit a post on a Greg Terrion setup and Jensen made a fine stop on Marcel Dionne cutting down the slot. Later, Jensen made an outstanding save as Dave Taylor deflected Mark Hardy's drive from the point.
The Capitals were assessed the only two penalties of the period, but Washington killed both so successfully that the Forum crowd showered boos on the home side.
Los Angeles Coach Don Perry was sitting in the press box, completing a six-game sentence imposed by the NHL for ordering Paul Mulvey to leave the bench and fight. Perry's assistant, Brad Selwood, permitted Murray to maneuver lines at will, despite the Kings' opportunity for the last change, and Murray sent Currie's checking unit against Dionne and the Triple Crown Line.
Washington's Mike Gartner was hammered in the corner late in the period and limped off the ice. There was no leg injury, however; he said afterward that he was groggy and could not remember being hit.
The Capitals increased their lead to 4-1 in the second period, as they outshot the struggling home club by 9-7.
The second goal came the same way as the first, Washington controlling the puck during a delayed penalty to Los Angeles, pulling Jensen for a sixth skater and converting the extra-man chance.
Bengt Gustafsson scored it on a backhander from the slot, maneuvering his way around several Kings after taking a pass from Rick Green. The goal, at 5:08, was the Swede's 16th of the season.
Los Angeles got on the scoreboard at 6:01, with Jensen caught far out of the net. Dionne sent a backhander toward the vacated cage and Green got his stick on it, but Taylor knocked the puck off the stick and into the net before Green could clear it. The goal was Taylor's 31st.
With the Kings' Dan Bonar off for interference, the Capitals took a 3-1 edge at 17:59. Maruk carried down the right wing against two Kings and dropped a pass to Chris Valentine, who hit the far corner of the net from the right wing circle for his 16th goal. Maruk's assist gave him 98 points, topping the club record.
It became 4-1 when a thoroughly revived Gartner came around from behind and knocked the puck past Lessard, who did not make a move to guard the post. The goal at 18:50 was Gartner's 25th and it prompted Selwood to summon Doug Keans to Lessard's rescue. Lessard yielded four goals in 15 shots.
Keans stood his ice to foil a Gartner breakaway early in the third period. The Capitals forechecked well to prevent a Los Angeles counterattack from developing and, on a rare occasion when the Kings applied offensive pressure, Jensen made good stops on Taylor and Charlie Simmer.