The Washington Capitals finally earned that elusive 28th victory of the season yesterday.
Frustrated by a tie in Quebec, a one-sided loss on Long Island and a snow job at home, the Capitals jumped on the Winnipeg Jets with a first-minute goal and breezed to a 6-1 victory before a surprising crowd of 9,582 at Capital Centre.
Victory No. 28 established a club record for one season, matched another with a sixth straight victory at home and once again put the Capitals into a tie with the New York Islanders for second place in the Patrick Division.
Future matchups against the Islanders were very much in Coach Bryan Murray's mind yesterday, as he broke up the Gee Whiz Line after an outstanding 45-game run and shifted center Glen Currie to left wing on a unit with Doug Jarvis and Ken Houston.
The move paid instant dividends when Houston and Currie produced first-period goals for a 2-0 Washington lead. Gaetan Duchesne made it 3-0 with Washington's third shorthanded score of the season and Craig Laughlin, Bengt Gustafsson and Milan Novy padded the margin.
Goalie Pat Riggin extended his personal unbeaten streak to five games with a 27-save effort that was aided by the outstanding work of the Capitals' defense in clearing the puck from his doorstep.
The Jets, unable to win here in seven visits, have beaten Washington only once in 14 meetings overall. Their task was rendered more difficult by the absence of three of their best players--Bengt Lundholm with a knee injury and Dave Christian and Dave Babych with shoulder problems.
Still, Winnipeg was coming off a Saturday victory in Detroit, while the Capitals had endured a miserable week that saw them play only once, that 8-3 rout by the Islanders.
Houston's 19th goal, therefore, provided a big lift when he swatted a rebound of a Randy Holt shot past Doug Soetaert after just 54 seconds.
"I think that early goal deflated them a little," Murray said. "But they still had some good chances in the period, and we were lucky to come out of it two goals ahead."
Currie, whose lone weak area has been the scoring department, provided the second goal at 8:38, beating Soetaert with a backhander after a fine pass from Jarvis out of the right-wing corner.
"I was on the side of the net and there wasn't much angle," Currie said. "I had the puck on my backhand and I didn't think I had a very good shot, so I hesitated. Then Doc (Houston) took out the defenseman, the goalie came over and I had an empty net. I'll take that any time."
That was Currie's seventh goal and he earned his 22nd assist as a penalty killer in the second period. Currie threw the puck out of the Washington end and Duchesne picked it up along the right-wing boards when point man Moe Mantha played it in nonchalant fashion.
Duchesne then broke in and sent the puck between Soetaert's legs for his 15th goal.
Laughlin scored his 14th after picking off an errant Winnipeg pass.
The Jets' Dale Hawerchuk beat Riggin 25 seconds later, but that was the last hurrah for the visitors.
Gustafsson and Novy collected power-play goals in the third period. Gustafsson's 15th came four seconds after referee Bryan Lewis had disallowed an apparent score by Scott Stevens.
Lewis signaled a delayed penalty on Winnipeg's Thomas Steen, but the Capitals maintained possession and Stevens from the left point ricocheted a shot past Soetaert off the skate of a Jet defenseman.
"He (Lewis) said he blew the whistle because he lost sight of the puck, but it went straight in and there was no pileup or anything," Stevens said. "It's okay--Gus got it right back."
Mike Gartner was helped off in the third period after he was struck in the left eye by a puck. He needed stitches on both the eyelid and the cheek.
Nevertheless, Gartner joined his teammates on a Potomac River cruise last night, in celebration of Valentine's Day and the team's unprecedented success.
The Capitals said folks who stayed home would be able to exchange unused tickets. An announcement will be made Tuesday concerning them as well as tickets for Friday's postponed game against Vancouver.