Sdazzled the Philadelphia Flyers with three goals in 2 minutes 9 seconds and extended their unbeaten streak to 13 games with a 3-1 victory. They also climbed to illogical heights, sharing second place in the Patrick Division with the Flyers.
Asked whether he thought the Capitals were ready to challenge the first-place New York Islanders, now just three points away, Coach Bryan Murray said, "I'd like to think we have a chance to aim that high."
As his players left the ice and headed happily to the dressing room, Murray stood and shook each hand, in silent thanks for a job well done. This was a hard-fought game from start to finish, with no quarter given or asked.
Philadelphia goalie Pelle Lindbergh blocked the first 30 shots the Capitals sent his way, but perseverance finally paid off and the last three went past, expertly directed by Milan Novy, Bobby Gould and Mike Gartner.
The Flyers scored on their first shot, Tom Gorence connecting at 2:39 of the first period. Washington goalie Al Jensen stopped the next 28, with a one-save assist by Dave Parro after Jensen was cut on his left eyebrow late in the first period.
Lindbergh's invincibility ended with 3:43 left in the game, on a second rebound after he had made two quick saves to run his total for the third period to 16. First he stopped Randy Holt's drive from the right point, then he blocked Gartner's rebound. But this time the puck caromed out onto Novy's stick and the Czech netted his 11th goal for a 1-1 tie.
The group of vocal Washington fans in the crowd of 16,849 apparently would willingly have settled for a tie; not the Capitals. Bengt Gustafsson jarred the puck loose from Flyer Ron Flockhart inside the Philadelphia blueline and poked it to Gould. He faked defenseman Bob Hoffmeyer to the ice, then lined a 30-footer past Lindbergh's glove, off the post at Lindbergh's left and into the net with 2:55 remaining.
"It wasn't a plan to get him to go down; it was just instinct," Gould said. "And I was just shooting the puck on net. Bryan has been harping at me to put it on net and this time it hit the post and went in.
"It's getting awful scary thinking about the streak. It has to end somewhere and I thought maybe it would be tonight, but whoever called us workaholics may have the answer, because we just kept working and winning."
It was Gould's 10th goal and third game-winner. With Gaetan Duchesne owning four winners, the Gee Whiz Line has seven of the team's 15.
Jensen had to stop a bouncing shot by Ray Allison before Gartner put it away on his 20th goal with 1:34 remaining. Doug Jarvis initiated a two-on-one break, with Gartner and Dennis Maruk against Flyer Mark Howe. Gartner, on the right wing, passed off to Maruk, took a return and cut in front of the crease to shove the puck past Lindbergh.
"I was wondering long before the third period what we were doing out there," Gartner said. "There was no overall effort the first two periods. Some guys -- Scott Stevens certainly -- were going, but not all 20 guys.
"Fortunately our goaltending held us in there until we got going and we seemed to really pick it up in the last 10 minutes.
"This streak feels especially good to me, after all those losing seasons in Washington. The last few years, when we couldn't win the big games, I always said they were character builders. Hopefully, the character is there now and we'll continue to win."
Jensen was struck on the mask by a Darryl Sittler drive with 1:38 left in the first period. The mask was driven into his face and eight stitches were required to stop the flow of blood. Parro relieved him until Jensen was ready to resume play in the second period.
Jensen was starting and winning his second straight 3-1 road game and Parro was called up from Hershey today to back him up because Pat Riggin is hobbled by a pulled tendon in his ankle.
"I picked up the puck, but not in time," Jensen said. "All I really remember is (trainer) Dick (Young) trying to stop the bleeding and the ref (Ron Hoggarth) standing there and telling us, 'Let's go.' "
Stevens threw some devastating checks and he sent both Ron Sutter and Flockhart limping off after solid blueline hits. Sutter spent most of the game in search of revenge and, after Stevens' third-period hip check on Flockhart, Sutter took a high-sticking run at the Washington rookie. Stevens punched Sutter to the ice, then both were given seven-minute penalties, which effectively removed them, since only 5:05 was left.
As a result, with Brian Engblom missing because of a cracked rib, Holt and Rod Langway were on the ice for most of the remaining time, including all three Washington goals.
"We had hoped to get four points out of this four-game swing and we promised the players a little extra if they made it," Murray said. "We have five now with one left against the Islanders. A lot of guys are going to be sending flowers to their wives."