At the start of each period last night at festive Capital Centre, announcer Dave Foxx exhorted the sellout crowd of 18,130 to salute the "playoff-bound Washington Capitals."
By night's end, the Capitals instead were bound in disarray for New York and tonight's game against the Rangers. They were minus injured Craig Laughlin and Brian Engblom, and frustrated by a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
The decisive goal was produced with 5:37 remaining by Glenn Anderson, who took a pass from Wayne Gretzky and broke past a flat-footed Washington defense still grumbling about a penalty imposed on Bobby Gould 10 seconds earlier.
Gould was waved off for tripping Jari Kurri at the Washington blueline, a decision by referee Gregg Madill that enraged Washington Coach Bryan Murray, most of the crowd and many of the Capitals. Since Edmonton has the NHL's best power play, the result of Gould's sentence was predictable.
So, in a way, was the outcome, which was finalized by Gretzky's 56th goal into an empty net with 31 seconds to play. This was Washington's 21st hockey sellout and the victory total in such circumstances remains two.
Far more harmful than the loss were the injuries to Laughlin, who suffered a separated right shoulder when checked by Dave Hunter in the first period, and Engblom, who was struck above the left eye by a deflected puck in the third. Laughlin will be lost for 10 days to two weeks; Engblom's status awaits further examination today at Prince George's Hospital.
For immediate relief, the Capitals called up right wing Chris Valentine and defenseman Paul MacKinnon from Hershey of the American League.
"I was skating across the blueline and I was blind-sided," Laughlin said. "I felt a little tingle and I thought maybe it was just bruised. But it hurt more and more and I finally figured I'd better have it checked.
"It's a slight separation and I might be able to play right away, but if I got hit once I'd be out for the season and maybe part of next year. With rest, hopefully I'll be ready for the last few games and the playoffs."
When Engblom dropped to the ice, one of the first players to his side was Mike Gartner, who was playing his first game since a puck struck him in the left eye Feb. 13.
"I feel so bad for Brian," Gartner said. "It looked like the same type of thing and I just hope it's not serious.
"My vision is still blurred, but my perception is good and I can pick things up. Hockey is all movement and blurry anyway. As long as I'm not seeing double--and I'm not--I should be all right."
Engblom's injury is not considered as serious as Gartner's, but his eye filled with blood from the cut and he was hospitalized as a precaution.
The Capitals never led last night, but they battled back from 1-0 and 3-1 deficits to get even. That they were able to stay so close was due in part to the inability of Anderson to put the puck in the net.
With the Oilers ahead, 3-2, Anderson twice missed the net on setups by Mark Messier. Then, after Alan Haworth converted Bob Carpenter's pass to tie it, Anderson took Don Jackson's pass in the slot and shot over the crossbar.
Gould's penalty gave Anderson one more chance and this time he wheeled past Rod Langway and skated so close to the net he could see the whites of goalie Pat Riggin's eyes. The goal was Anderson's 42nd and Murray, despite the threat of a fine, could not restrain himself from criticizing Madill's ruling.
"I think everyone saw it," Murray said. "It's frustrating to me, with 18,000 people in our building, to have the game decided by that. I don't want any breaks, but I want the game called the same way as everybody else would call the game. I can't believe any other referee would call incidental contact like that with five minutes left in a game."
"I didn't agree with the call, but that's his job, not mine," Gould said. "I was going at him (Kurri) and I came down on top of him. When I came up, I lifted him up with my stick. He was no threat, so I guess it's my fault, but I never expected it at that stage."
The first two Washington goals were produced by Milan Novy and Bengt Gustafsson. Gustafsson had twice struck posts before deflecting a Langway drive midway through the second period.
"You've got to be lucky sometime," Gustafsson said. "To lose two guys and then get beat by the referee. It's not that easy."