There was no riotous celebration to mark the clinching of the Washington Capitals' first playoff berth Thursday night in Calgary. For most of the players, there was no reason to celebrate, because they never doubted from season's start that the team would be contending for the Stanley Cup.
Coach Bryan Murray said the subject never came up before the Capitals defeated the Calgary Flames, 4-2, for the Flames' first loss in their last 11 games at the Stampede Corral.
"We expected to make the playoffs," Murray said. "I didn't even tell the guys we could clinch a spot, although I'm sure most of them were aware of it. But we're not just looking to get in. We're looking to finish second and get home ice against the Islanders."
The Capitals trail the Islanders by one point as they prepare for another emotional game here Saturday night against the Montreal Canadiens. The whole team plans to make this a winning return for the ex-Canadiens--Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin--just as everyone worked at peak efficiency Thursday on behalf of the four ex-Flames--Pat Riggin, Ken Houston, Bobby Gould and Randy Holt.
It was especially sweet for Riggin, who spent three seasons with the Flames, frequently feuding with management, media and fans. Riggin stopped 26 shots and earned No. 3 star honors as he ran his unbeaten streak to eight games.
"The guys played really well for me," Riggin said. "We played a lot more disciplined than they did. I hope I showed them that I can play on the road, that I can play anywhere in this league. I think maybe I've proved it for about the fifth time."
Murray held Riggin out of Wednesday's 6-3 loss in Edmonton so that he would be rested and ready for his first game in the Corral since he was dealt to Washington in June.
"At the beginning of the trip, Pat Riggin suggested to (assistant coach) Terry (Murray) that maybe I'd consider starting him in Calgary," Murray said. "The way he's played the last seven or eight games, he deserved it. He probably should have played in Edmonton, but I wanted him to be ready to play at his best against the Flames."
"You play when you're told," Riggin said of his informal request for the assignment. "But I didn't play the first time in here and I didn't want them to think I was hiding from them."
The No. 1 star was Alan Haworth, who put three goals past former Buffalo teammate Don Edwards and ducked into the net to retrieve the puck after completing his first NHL hat trick.
Obviously, the hat trick was paramount in Haworth's mind, but he said the playoff clinching was reason for additional joy.
"Everybody is happy about it," Haworth said. "But remember that this isn't the team that didn't make the playoffs all those years. This is a new hockey team that's a winner.
"We wanted to prove to ourselves and to everybody else that we belong in this league. A lot of us came from teams that didn't want us and now we're enjoying the chance to show them they made a mistake."
Dennis Maruk did not score a point or even put a shot on goal Thursday, but he owned one of the biggest smiles in the dressing room. This is Maruk's eighth NHL season and, as a high-production forward with low-quality teams in Oakland, Cleveland and Washington, he is burdened with a lot of strange statistics.
Maruk has played more NHL games without participating in the playoffs than any other active player. He is the only 60-goal scorer not to be chosen to a postseason all-star team and is the lone 50-goal scorer never to appear in a Stanley Cup game.
"I haven't contributed as much as I should this year, but I have a great feeling just the same," Maruk said. "A lot of guys have to be proud. This team has played great. It's the team that got us there, a 20-man effort, and now we'll have to see how far we can go in the playoffs. We have 17 more games to go, but I'll be thinking about that first one in the playoffs."