The Washington Capitals proved tonight they can win a close game. Holding the Philadelphia Flyers scoreless over the last 10 minutes, the Capitals earned a 4-3 victory, only their fourth one-goal triumph of the season.
For a while, though, this savored success showed evidence of another third-period collapse. It was 4-1 entering the final period, but the Flyers started living up to their nickname and struck three posts in less than three minutes while hovering around goalie Dave Parro.
When Bill Barber and Ken Linseman scored 55 seconds apart, a Washington loss seemed imminent. Then the Flyers challenged the curvature of Ryan Walter's stick and, when it was determined that it was illegal, Walter headed to the penalty box with 8:05 left.
It was Philadelphia's first power play of the game and Washington Coach Bryan Murray admitted he was thinking "Not again."
But Parro made an outstanding save on Darryl Sittler and the Capitals somehow survived the penalty. It gave them an obvious lift and they restricted the Flyers to a handful of good chances down the stretch, Parro making a glove deflection of a testing Brian Propp drive and defenseman Randy Holt blocking another shot from close range.
Philadelphia pulled goalie Pelle Lindbergh for a sixth skater with 67 seconds left, but some outstanding play by Bobby Gould and Walter kept the Flyers in center ice much of the time.
"The biggest thing was that power play where we stopped them," said Parro, who made 35 saves. "That was the key. When we got through that one, we knew we could win."
"I have to thank my fellow teammates for that," Walter said. "I thought my stick was pretty close, and it was, but not close enough. If you check, you'll find 99 percent of the sticks in the league are illegal."
"We were concerned that somebody was watching the hockey sticks in this building and when we got caught I was afraid it would cost us," Murray said. "We played so disciplined the first and second periods, then in the third with the lead we went into a shell again. They picked it up, but we were sitting back, even though we talked about it again."
In the four games before Tuesday's 8-1 disaster on Long Island, the Capitals had gone into the third period with leads and had wound up with two ties and two defeats. But if anything was on their minds tonight, it was that awful beating by the Islanders.
"We just let ourselves down," Parro said. "We know we're better than that. Tonight we played as a unit. They hit a few posts and they had some other good chances where they shot wide or couldn't handle a pass when they were open, but it's time we got a few breaks."
Washington took a 2-1 lead in the first period on power play goals by Chris Valentine, his 25th, and Lee Norwood. They were the 97th and 98th power play goals against Philadelphia this season, just one away from the NHL record set by Pittsburgh a year ago.
In the first seven minutes of the second period, the Capitals played their best hockey of the season. They outshot the Flyers, 10-0, and added two more goals, Gould scoring his 18th and Walter his 37th.
The Flyers began to come back late in the period, although Parro fought them off. Then Philadelphia got a big lift by killing two penalties early in the third period, fouls that overlapped and provided Washington with a two-man advantage for 23 seconds.
It was another failed extra-man attempt, by the Flyers following the stick violation, that turned the momentum around one last time. It was the Capitals' fourth success here in their last six visits; all four one-goal victories have come on the road, two here and two against the New York Rangers.
"That's a big win for us and now we have to keep it going," said Walter, noting that Pittsburgh, eight points ahead with five games left for both clubs, still can be overtaken for a playoff spot.
"It's nice to win anywhere," said Dennis Maruk, whose two assists gave him 126 points this season, 551 for his career. "It's been too frustrating lately."