The struggling Minnesota North Stars summoned Olympics hero Jim Craig from Salt Lake City to tend goal against the Washington Capitals tonight.
Dave Christian, Craig's teammate with the 1980 gold medalists, and Gaetan Duchesne put Washington's first two shots past Craig, who yielded five goals in two periods and had a return ticket in his hand by the time the Capitals had completed their fourth straight victory, 6-1.
Washington goalie Al Jensen turned back 27 Minnesota shots and only a second-period power play score by a third Olympian, Neal Broten, spoiled a third straight shutout. Jensen's club-record scoreless streak ended at 154 minutes 6 seconds.
In scoring only their second triumph in 18 visits to Met Center, the Capitals matched the team mark of three straight road successes. They will try to boost that another notch Sunday night in Winnipeg against the team that peddled Christian to Washington in June.
The Capitals, who usually find themselves outskated here, were too quick for Minnesota this time. They also displayed some pinpoint passes in what undoubtedly was their best effort of the young season.
"They're going through what we went through," Christian said of the North Stars, who have dropped five of their last six. "You don't want to make a mistake, so you're a little tentative and you're not as aggressive as usual, and guys get a couple of steps on you."
Gustafsson, who celebrated his 300th NHL game with two goals, got a step on defenseman Craig Levie in the first minute tonight and Levie, called up from Salt Lake City with Craig, tackled him.
On the ensuing power play, Craig Laughlin skated down the right wing and fed Christian, unchallenged on the left wing. Christian slid the puck between Craig's skate and the short-side post after just 51 seconds.
Washington's next shot came at 3:42 and Duchesne made it another good one. Duchesne, cutting toward the net from the left wing corner, shoved the puck to Mike Gartner behind the goal line and skated into the slot. Gartner's return pass was perfect and Duchesne beat Craig with a backhander.
Jensen stopped breakaways by Steve Payne and Keith Acton, the newest North Star, before Gustafsson made it 3-0 late in the first period. Gustafsson dropped the puck for Christian on the left wing, skated into the slot and netted a hard wrist shot after taking Christian's return pass.
Butsy Erickson, an all-America here at the University of Minnesota, was a key factor in Gustafsson's second goal early in the second period. Erickson knocked the puck away from defenseman Brad Maxwell behind the Minnesota net and Gustafsson grabbed it and spun in front, to carom the puck off Craig's skate and across the line.
Broten ended Jensen's streak at 4:45, snapping a shot over the goalie's left shoulder from the right wing circle after Jensen had made outstanding saves on Tom McCarthy and Dino Ciccarelli. Greg Adams was off for interference and the goal was only the second extra-man score yielded by the Capitals in the last eight games.
"I never thought about the scoreless streak," Jensen said. "We've won four in a row, now that's some kind of record. This is all a team thing and that's what mattered."
The goal brought the North Stars to life and they pressed hard for another score. Jensen, however, foiled an attempted jam by Payne and Scott Stevens' 40-footer on a power play drained Minnesota's tank.
Gilles Meloche, who has beaten Washington 19 times in his career, replaced Craig at the start of the third period and yielded the final goal, to Laughlin with a minute left.
Of Craig's promotion for this game, Minnesota Coach Bill Mahoney said, "We wanted a lift and we were hoping Jim could make some early saves and get us going. He's an emotional player. We were very tentative and nervous when Boston got two early goals Thursday (as Minnesota lost, 8-1) and we didn't want that to happen again. Of course, it did."
Jensen was penalized twice for using his stick on Acton, once after Acton bumped him behind the net, and the goalie said, "He hacked me and I hacked him. I had the same trouble with him in junior. I tried not to get carried away, but I saw him coming and he didn't have to do that. I didn't mean to hit him as hard as I did, though."
Among the crowd of 11,188 was tennis star Bjorn Borg and countryman Gustafsson said, "I knew he'd be here, because he's such a big hockey fan. I wish I knew him, I'd teach him some tennis."