The Washington Capitals' defensive players overcame adversity one more time tonight, as Randy Holt and Timo Blomqvist were suddenly forced into action and responded brilliantly to help the Capitals to a 4-2 upset of the New York Islanders.
Coach Bryan Murray elected to go with only three defenders--Rod Langway, Brian Engblom and Scott Stevens. The strategy worked splendidly during 25 scoreless minutes, until Stevens intervened to stop Bob Bourne from fighting with Gaetan Duchesne and was ejected with a game misconduct.
"The excuse was there--we could always say we lost because Scott was thrown out," said Holt, who had played briefly earlier at left wing. "But Timo and I lived up to the pressure and played a strong game and proved one more time that this team has more depth than a lot of people realize. How many guys can sit out half a game and come in and do that kind of job?"
"Blomqvist and Holt have contributed all year and they played well after sitting out one period," Murray said. "I was upset at Scott for getting involved, but the guys stood up for him. Then they stepped in and helped make up for his absence. It's been that way all season."
Both Engblom and Holt were out with injuries the only other time the Capitals won in Nassau Coliseum, by a 5-1 score on Dec. 23.
An added reason for the initial pall created by Stevens' departure was the fact that he had played so well in the first period, while playing alternate shifts with Langway and Engblom.
"The more I play, the more I get into the game," Stevens said. "It boosts you to think you're one of three guys they're depending on. You get tired, but it drives you harder. It gets better as it goes on.
"Then I get kicked out. I was told before the game not to do it, because they're always trying that stuff. But I don't like a guy jumping on another guy and when the fight started, I went for Bourne. I didn't realize what I was doing.
"The main thing is we won. When I get kicked out, we usually win, but I'm not going to try it just for that."
"I was kind of disappointed when I found out I wasn't playing," Blomqvist said. "I thought I had a pretty good game yesterday. I came to the rink ready to play and then I had to sit down half the game. It was like starting all over.
"My body wasn't ready, after warming up and then sitting. It took me three or four hard shifts to get going. But it's all very much up here (tapping his head). When you're playing a regular shift the way we did the last half, you're in the game all the time."
Shortly after Blomqvist entered the game, he was penalized for tripping and Murray immediately called a timeout.
"The crowd was getting noisy and everything was suddenly in their favor," Murray said. "I wanted to change the tempo. If Al Jensen had given up a goal early, I planned to take him out for a few minutes, just to calm things down."
Murray had discussed the possibility of going with three defensemen because of the recent blowouts by the Islanders and finally implemented it after Wednesday's 5-2 defeat here.
"If we're going to lose, we'll lose with our best," Murray said in explanation.
"We had a few bloopers in the first game and they decided they didn't want any breakdowns at all," Holt said in further explanation. "When you think about it, with the three regular defensemen out there, all big guys, they were in control and staying out of trouble.
"In fact, it was working so well that when Scott was kicked out, instead of saying, 'Ah, I'll get some ice time,' I was mad at Scott."
For Langway, the added ice time was hardly noticeable, considering his usual quota.
"I've always played the left side and I had to move to the right when I was out there with Scott, because he didn't feel comfortable there," Langway said. "It was kind of weird, but you just play hockey, you don't worry about it."
There was another moment of concern when Langway crashed into the net in the third period, but he rose quickly and skated off.
"I think my skates just came out from under me," Langway said. "I had my hand on the back of my neck and it hit the post. I'm okay."
Of his extra duty, Engblom said, "You go as long as you can and try to keep the shifts short. Rod and I have done it before and you learn when to conserve your energy. We had nothing to lose. We had to try to win this game."