The St. Louis Blues came to Capital Centre last night for the second time in a week, the first team to appear twice on a Washington Capitals homestand. The struggling Blues also became first to be beaten twice on one stand, as the Capitals rolled to an 8-4 victory.
Washington captain Ryan Walter scored twice within 26 seconds for a 5-1 lead in the second period and St. Louis, losing its ninth straight road game, never came closer than two goals thereafter. Further good news for Capitals fans: the team climbed within seven points of Pittsburgh, which lost at home to Boston.
"It's in our hands now," Walter said. "We've got three games with Pittsburgh and we've got one in hand."
There were only two scary moments for the 11,238 in attendance. One came in the second period, when Mike Gartner was tripped from behind by Rik Wilson and rolled into a goal post, with a skate caught in the net. Gartner lay on the ice for a couple of minutes, then walked gingerly to the dressing room. He was back, however, his bruised right arm carefully padded, in time to alleviate queasy feeling No. 2.
After the Blues pulled within 6-4 midway through the third period, Washington goalie Al Jensen blocked a shot by Bernie Federko. The rebound struck Federko, then hit a post and went wide. Before St. Louis could come that close again, Gartner scored on a rebound of a shot by Bobby Carpenter for his 31st goal, relieving the pressure.
"When I went toward the post, I tried to get my ribs and legs out of the way," Gartner said. "But I braced myself with my right arm and after I hit it was completely numb. I was afraid I'd broken it at first. I stayed down until I started to get some feeling back. It's painful, but I'll be okay."
Last Thursday, the Capitals routed the Blues, 9-1, sending 46 shots at Mike Liut, the first-team all-star goalie of 1981. Last night, St. Louis used Rick Heinz, a Minnesota-Duluth product who seemed to have hands of iron. Heinz was beaten eight times on only 33 shots and some of the goals were suspect, as he repeatedly got himself tangled up when he tried to go behind the net or pass the puck.
"They showed a lot of character coming back, because some of those goals really had to hurt," Walter said. "They're struggling and they looked like we were four years ago, suffering lapses and lacking confidence."
The Blues had problems all night, with Larry Patey missing a check and hitting the boards, then leaving with a wrenched neck; Wayne Babych suffering bruised ribs from a solid blueline check by Rick Green and Jack Brownschidle losing his balance and landing heavily against the boards.
Walter was the only multiple scorer. Besides Gartner, Washington's other goal producers were Green, Bobby Carpenter, Bengt Gustafsson, Bobby Gould and Glen Currie.
Dennis Maruk had two assists, giving him 301 for his NHL career and 61 for this season, topping his own club record of 59, set in 1978-79. Oddly, while the Capitals have totaled 25 goals in the last four games, Maruk has been blanked. In the previous eight games, Maruk had 15 of the Capitals' 36 goals.
Where the Capitals have been outskated by teams like Edmonton and Quebec, they obviously hold an edge in that department over the Blues, a team with some talented players that had difficulty chasing Gartner, Carpenter, Gustafsson and others.
"The difference in the two teams appears to be overall skating," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Quickness appears to be their weakness. Gartner and even Currie were able to accelerate past people. They were trying to play the body and they worked, but they had a problem keeping up with the tempo."
Both teams had defensive problems and Gould's goal, which made it 6-3, was a typical gift by the Blues. St. Louis defenseman Gerry Hart passed the puck directly to Gould in the Blues' end. Jim Pavese took it away momentarily, but Gould got it back and sent the puck between Heinz's legs.
Jensen had his difficulties, but he continues to perform like a good-luck charm.
"Al was staying back in the net and he got pinched back on one goal," Murray said. "Then when I finally convinced him to come out, he got run over. We had our lapses, but if that was our bad game for the rest of the year, we'll allow that."
The steadying influence for Washington was Green, who besides scoring his second goal delivered some solid checks. He was on the ice for four goals by Washington, none by St. Louis, and, in typical Capital Centre three-star fashion, received no recognition.