The New York Islanders were up to their usual tricks last night, but the Capitals' Bengt Gustafsson trumped them with his first National Hockey League hat trick and Washington defeated the Stanley Cup champions, 7-3, at Capital Centre.
Before the game began, Gustafsson was stopped by Joe Gensor, the burly guardian of the Capitals' dressing room. "He told me, 'If you get a goal in the first period, you'll get a hat trick,' " Gustafsson recalled. "I thought, 'Sure.' But after I got one in the first and one in the second, I told him, 'One more to go.' "
That one more could not have come at a more crucial moment. The Capitals' 4-0 lead had been diminished to 4-3 and Coach Bryan Murray called a timeout with 14:45 to play to help goalie Al Jensen, the object of Islander whacks and smacks all night, a chance to regain his cool.
Two minutes later, a clearing attempt by the Islanders' Ken Morrow was deflected by Dave Christian and the puck went to Gustafsson at the outer edge of the left-wing circle. Gustafsson stickhandled past two Islanders and slipped the puck between the legs of goalie Rollie Melanson.
"It was a big one," said Gustafsson, holding a cap from the 101 Club that was one of several headpieces thrown onto the ice to celebrate his feat. "We were down and laying back and they were taking the game away. I was lucky. I lost my balance and just tried to shoot on net and the puck went between his legs."
Rejuvenated, the Capitals padded the margin on goals by Mike Gartner and Bob Gould to avenge Thursday night's 6-1 setback on Long Island and end the Islanders' nine-game unbeaten streak. In the process, the Capitals returned to the .500 mark.
Washington had a 41-22 advantage in shots and New York did not test Jensen until 12 minutes had elapsed. But if the Islanders did not put many pucks near the Capitals' goalie, they had their sticks around him much of the night.
With the score 4-0, Jensen was whistled for high sticking while retaliating against Greg Gilbert. On the ensuing power play, after Brent Sutter and Jensen exchanged swipes of their sticks, Sutter scored off Mike Bossy's pass with 48 seconds left in the second period.
Sixty-three seconds into the third period, the Islanders' Bryan Trottier lifted the puck from Larry Murphy in front of the Washington net. Jensen stopped Trottier but could not control the puck and Gilbert hit the empty net.
Jensen was knocked down by Trottier not long before Trottier and Washington's Rod Langway pirouetted around the puck until it was right in front of the net. As Jensen reached for it, Bossy batted it past him to reduce the deficit to one goal. That spurred Murray to call for time.
"Al was putting a lot of pressure on himself," Murray said. "He was jumping around, not cool and poised as he had been, and I wanted to try to get him to relax."
"As soon as I come out of the net, they're always hacking at me," Jensen said. "I guess I've just got to live with it. They're the Stanley Cup champs and I guess they figure that's one way to get me off my game. We'll play them in the playoffs for sure, so now is the time for me to forget about it and not let it bother me."
The Islanders launched a few tricks at Gustafsson, too, but in the end he was doing all the laughing. In the second period, Mats Hallin broke his stick on Gustafsson's helmet without receiving a penalty and in the final period former Capital Gord Lane threw Gustafsson down with an armhold, again with no whistle.
"They're a big, strong hockey team and they take advantage of it," Murray said. "They have the edge in size and strength right now. We have to catch up in that department."
The Capitals' power play has a way to go, too. Victimized by three shorthanded goals on Long Island, Washington this time killed off its four extra-man opportunities without anyone scoring.
Flames 5, Oilers 5: Rookie Dan Quinn's first NHL goal, with 51 seconds left in regulation, gave Calgary its tie in Edmonton after a scoreless overtime.
The 18-year-old rookie center forced the five-minute overtime when he scored on a goal-mouth scramble at 19:09 of the third period. Jari Kurri deflected Paul Coffey's point shot between Calgary goalie Don Edwards' legs at 1:24 of the period to give Edmonton a 5-4 edge.
Wayne Gretzky extended his NHL consecutive points streak to 36 games when he opened the scoring at 7:18 of the first period. Starting goalie Rejean Lemelin lost sight of the puck after Gretzky's pass from the top of the faceoff circle hit a defenseman's skate, bounced into the air and trickled into the net. Lemelin was replaced by Edwards at the start of the second period, having strained back muscles.