It could have been quitting time for the Washington Capitals at the midpoint of the second period today. Trailing, 3-1, outshot, 10-2, over the first 10 minutes of the period, playing a day game after a one-sided night defeat at the end of a six-game road trip, the Capitals were further frustrated by a too-many-men call against Bobby Carpenter.
So why were all those players smiling in the Washington locker room an hour later? Because Ryan Walter started a rally with a short-handed goal, Mike Gartner tied the game with his second score, Chris Valentine celebrated his day a week late with his fourth game-winner, and Dennis Maruk scored twice to hit 51 goals--only the 12th player in National Hockey League history to reach 50 more than once.
The Capitals' 6-3 victory gave them a 3-3 split on this journey through all varieties of temperature and altitude, kept them within 11 points of Pittsburgh and sent them home in an upbeat mood to play 13 of their remaining 19 games in front of friendly fans.
"Two weeks really drains you, but I wasn't tired at all today," Gartner said. "I felt a little spunky. When it was 3-1, I think we really showed character. It was the sixth game of a road trip and we were up against it, but we really rose to the occasion."
Carpenter looked like a goat when he skated to the box, drawing a minor penalty because he played the puck after replacement Gaetan Duchesne had jumped over the boards. Instead, he was starting a chain reaction that would lead to the Capitals' victory.
Glen Currie, pulled down in the Winnipeg end, managed to shove the puck ahead to Bobby Gould, who went one on one with point man Dave Christian and got off a shot that was blocked by goalie Ed Staniowski. Gould retrieved the puck behind the net and slid it out to Walter at the left hashmark in the slot. The Capitals' captain reached the 30-goal mark for the first time by sending the puck through a tiny opening on Staniowski's short side.
"He just seemed to lean a bit and I got it past him," Walter said. "It was a nice pass by Bobby Gould, and it really brought us back after we had a bit of an emotional dip."
"It picked us up; short-handed goals always do," Gould said. "Especially being down, 3-1, this was a very big goal. And what a game to win."
Carpenter, improving on faceoffs, won a big draw from Thomas Steen in the right-wing circle at the Winnipeg end, and Gartner scored No. 28 to tie it at 3 before the second period was over.
It took the Capitals only 32 seconds of the third period to move ahead for good. Terry Murray's drive from the right point was wide of the left post, but Valentine cut across to scoop it into the net for his 17th goal, not a bad figure for a rookie drafted in the 10th round.
Winnipeg appeared likely to tie it when Dale Hawerchuk stole the puck from Rick Green and set up Craig Levie for what seemed a certain score. But the puck was hit an inch wide of the post, and Valentine immediately sent an outlet pass to Maruk, who beat replacement goalie Doug Soetaert on a breakaway, shooting over Soetaert's left shoulder.
Staniowski had departed at 4:34 of the third period, after he tried to play the puck behind the net and was dumped by Bengt Gustafsson. Staniowski suffered a pinched nerve in his right arm and was replaced by Soetaert, who had stopped Washington here Jan. 20 in the NHL's most recent shutout.
Maruk added No. 51 with 1:20 left, taking the puck away from Christian and scoring from the right-wing circle. Maruk tied Gartner's club record by scoring a goal in eight straight games; he has 15 in that stretch.
Maruk scored those third-period goals as a left wing, switching positions with Walter because Christian had been checking him closely all afternoon at the center spot.
"I was very tired, and it was even tougher because they had a checker on me," Maruk said. "I wasn't getting much room, so Wally shifted with me and I was able to get on top of the puck a lot quicker.
"That was a victory we really need. We've been working so hard, we deserve better. We all knew we played so well on this road trip, and we wanted to come out no worse than .500. Sure, 50 is nice, and I'll take it. Right now, winning is more important."