he Washington Capitals won their first playoff game tonight, evening their best-of-five series with the defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders with a 4-2 victory.
The scene shifts to Capital Centre Saturday at 1 p.m. for Game 3 with the fourth game also on Washington ice Sunday night. If necessary, the teams will return to Long Island for the fifth game Tuesday.
As in the first game, Bob Gould had two goals for the Capitals. But this time they meant more than in that 5-2 defeat on Wednesday.
His first goal tonight gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead at 13:46 of the second period. Bob Nystrom came right back just over two minutes later to tie it on his second goal of the series, but Dennis Maruk's first playoff goal at 18:47 of the period put the Capitals ahead to stay.
Gould's second goal early in the third period padded the advantage, and Bobby Carpenter added the fourth after Denis Potvin's goal appeared to generate the start of an Islanders rally.
"Our work, and the goaltending (by Al Jensen), was outstanding," Washington Coach Bryan Murray said. "We got a little momentum going in the second period, and overall, once we got ahead, we played a very intelligent, disciplined hockey game."
Gould, who has become the Capitals' playoff leader, said he thought Washington's play tonight was identical to the previous night's. "The difference tonight was that we got the breaks instead of the Islanders. Last night their power play was working; tonight, we played disciplined, and things were working out."
At first it didn't seem that way. Both teams were frustrated in an opening period that saw the Islanders hold a 14-11 edge in shots. Washington also lost defenseman Scott Stevens at 5:22 of the second period with a game misconduct after Bob Bourne and Gaetan Duchesne scuffled.
"I thought I got there before the fight was over, but they ruled that I was the third man in, and I got the game (misconduct)," Stevens said. "I hadn't said anything. But you don't like to see these big guys pick on Gaets."
Murray said, "When a kid steps in to a pushing incident and gets the third man in, it's upsetting. But these guys stick up for one another."
With Stevens out, the Capitals' intensity seemed to increase, and Gould put it to good use. The first play began in the Capitals' end, where Rod Langway snatched the puck away from Duane Sutter, who was skating toward Jensen's crease. However, Langway swung the puck around and Gould grabbed it.
Controlling in into the Islander end, he went off balance after head-faking a defender and cutting to the left. But he managed to get off the shot just as goalie Billy Smith came out of the net to the right. The puck went into the net to Smith's right.
"I was almost surprised to see the puck go in," Gould said. He downplayed his second goal, the end of a give and go he had begun with Duchesne. Gould had passed to Duchesne, whose shot had bounced in front of Smith. As Smith sprawled on the ice, trying to shove the puck away from him, Gould was there, flipping it into the back of the cage. "All I had to do was pick up a rebound and get it into that open net," Gould said.
Murray said of Gould: "I've noticed in every playoff series, an individual steps forward and does something. I've noticed in the past, the (Bob) Nystroms or (Bryan) Trottiers, guys like that, will really lead," he said.
Murray was asked if he hoped to return for a fifth game. "I don't want to ever come back here, at least 'til next January," he said.
His players feel the same. "Going into our own building down 0-2 was something we didn't want," Gould said. "We had to get the split, and now it's back to an even series. I think tonight we always seemed to come back. Like when they got that goal (Potvin's score at 14:29 of the third period), we went on and worked extra hard, and on that next shift, Carpy (Carpenter) got his goal."
Potvin's goal had provided a momentary lift for the Islanders. This team just isn't used to being on the down side of a playoff game, and when Potvin chased the puck into the corner, then picked up a feed from Bourne for the score, the crowd of 15,150 began a great roar. Potvin's goal made it 3-2 and the Islanders were looking ahead to the possibility of an overtime period.
But before New York could coordinate a rush for the tying goal, Carpenter took away some of that Islander momentum. Carrying the puck into the New York end, he skated around Trottier, who then hooked Carpenter from behind. Smith came out of the net, but left a chunk of open space between his right side and the post, which is exactly where Carpenter aimed, even with the hindrance of Trottier.
"Tonight we were getting the shots," Carpenter said. "This was so important, because every game we play now is the most important game we've ever played."