With 65 games left in the season, the Washington Capitals moved into playoff contention last night. Their 3-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils brought the Capitals' record to 5-7-3 and moved them into fourth place in the six-team Patrick Division, a point ahead of New Jersey.
"It certainly helps when a team plays like that in front of you," said goalie Al Jensen, who got his first NHL shutout a week after being called up from Hershey. "I didn't have too many shots, but I do feel good about it."
After a disallowed goal sent into the net by Ken Houston, the Capitals got a real lead on Milan Novy's goal at 15:43 and simply sat on it through the second period. Third-period goals by Alan Haworth and Dennis Maruk confirmed New Jersey's 11th straight winless effort.
Washington's home-ice winning streak was extended to two.
Jensen handled a scant 19 shots, nine during the first period. Washington had just as many during the early going, but eventually sent 35 at Glenn Resch.
Novy's goal was originally credited to Rod Langway, who shot the puck from the point into a crowd in front of Resch. The puck seemed to bounce off at least one of the bodies, but the goal was awarded to Langway. Novy knew it was his, however. He had tripped in front of the net, his stick hitting the puck toward Resch as he went down.
Novy raised his stick in celebration, even before the scoring was changed. Later he described the goal as if playing charades, using sweeping motions and few words. "Rod (Langway) no goal," he said firmly.
Haworth's goal came at 4:15 of the final period. He took the puck around the back of Resch's cage, swinging it toward the goalie's glove side. Resch said he made a "sliding save" on it.
"I had the puck in my pads and thought I held it long enough," he said. "Then somebody came up (Craig Laughlin), it dropped and somebody (Haworth) went upstairs with it." That gave Washington a 2-0 edge, and Maruk's power play shot at 8:11 moved the game out of the Devils' neighborhood for good.
Working with linemate Ken Houston, Maruk carried the puck into the New Jersey zone, then slid it to Houston, who backhanded it to Maruk. His swift shot from the point put it by Resch for the 3-0 victory.
The Devils, who had tied the Capitals, 2-2, in New Jersey Monday night, apparently abandoned their power somewhere over Teterboro airport. In six power play attempts, the Devils scarcely got within shooting distance of Jensen.
Resch, frequently doubling as his own defenseman, was clearly frustrated. "We've got to create more offense, especially on the power play. We do have a pretty good power play. It's the key to our success."
Timo Blomqvist's back-to-back penalties gave the Devils four minutes to strut that success, but the Capitals frustrated every move by a player in a New Jersey jersey. Bob Gould even skated in on Resch, aiming for a short-handed score, but Tapio Levo rode him offcourse. "What did we have during that (four minute span), one shot?" Resch asked. "Even if you don't score, you've got to take chances."
Coach Bryan Murray of the Capitals, looking more relaxed than he has since training camp, praised his team's increased discipline. "We continually talk about defense," he said. "And the goals against us will be cut down -- are being cut down. Maybe the goals for us will be cut down too, but a 2-0 or 3-0 game, well . . .