The Washington Capitals played 20 minutes of superb hockey last night, building a 2-0 lead over the Philadelphia Flyers as a record home-opener crowd of 17,441 howled in delight.
Then the Capitals took the night off. The Flyers, working hard for the last 40 minutes, rallied to attain a 4-2 victory that left Washington winless after two games.
The struggling Capitals try to end another of those apparent early-season jinx starts tonight in Chicago.
There appeared to be no problem last night until two different teams seemingly returned from the dressing rooms. In the first period, the Capitals had built an 18-5 margin in shots and only some sensational goaltending by Pelle Lindbergh kept the Flyers within two goals.
"It should have been a 5-0 hockey game after one, and maybe the players thought so, too," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "They came out and outworked us the last two periods.
"The big thing was that Pelle Lindbergh was outstanding. I haven't seen him play in two years like he has the last two nights. Whether it's us or whether he's got his confidence back, I don't know."
Lindbergh, who stopped 35 shots last night, was the game's No. 1 star, just as he was in Thursday's 2-2 tie at Philadelphia.
The Flyers have a history of playing tough in unfriendly rinks and they ignited the drive toward their fifth straight road-opening success with two goals in the first seven minutes of the second period.
Goalie Pat Riggin, playing his 200th NHL game, came well out of the net to block a shot by Lindsay Carson and couldn't get back when the puck squirted into the air. Defenseman Dave Shand tried to fill the vacancy, but Mark Howe lined a shot over him to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"I got my glove on it, but it went right off my glove into the top of the net," Shand said. "I knew Patty was stuck out and couldn't get back, but I just couldn't hold it."
Not long after, Shand was caught up ice by Howe's quick outlet pass, leaving Rod Langway the lone defender on the two-on-one break that tied the score. Rookie Peter Zezel drew both Langway and Riggin toward him with a cleverly faked shot, then directed a pass to Ilkka Sinisalo for an easy tap into an empty net.
Miroslav Dvorak's game winner, early in the third period, followed a rare giveaway by Langway. Len Hachborn lifted the puck from Langway in the Washington end and fed Dvorak just inside the blueline. The Czech skated to about 40-foot range before unloading a shot that beat Riggin, who was screened by Murray Craven.
It was Craven, obtained from Detroit Wednesday in the Darryl Sittler deal, who screened Riggin on Tim Kerr's tying goal in Philadelphia Thursday.
"He backed right in on me, but he didn't touch me," Riggin said. "Dvorak just made a good shot."
Lindbergh made back-to-back saves on testing shots by Dave Christian and Alan Haworth before Kerr wrapped it up by cutting down the slot and netting a rebound after Riggin had blocked his backhander.
Derrick Smith came close to adding another Flyer goal in the closing minutes, the red light flashing in error when his shot struck the crossbar and the puck dropped on the goalline before it was cleared.
"We had some chances in the third period, but we made some careless plays in our end and they cost us," Murray said. "We were caught standing around a lot of the time and they bumped us off the puck a lot."
The Capitals' offensive star was rookie Andre Hidi, yet such was the nature of the contest that Murray confined him to the bench in the third period, when he cut back to three lines.
"I just felt that Jim McGeough with his great speed was more of a threat to score," Murray said. "He's a goal scorer. He'll get a lot of them before he's through."
While McGeough had five shots, second only to Gartner's seven, he went pointless. Hidi, on the other hand, scored one goal, his first in the NHL, and was a goal-mouth nuisance when Gartner netted the other.
Both goals came on first-period power plays. Bengt Gustafsson's shot from the right-wing circle struck Hidi in the leg and trickled past Lindbergh at 10:05, with Zezel in the penalty box for playing with a broken stick. It was Washington's eighth shot; at the time, the Flyers had one.
"I kept the puck, but I would have liked to score my first one a little differently, like a penalty shot on the top shelf," Hidi said.
Carson was off for holding when Gartner fired from the right-wing circle and the puck caromed in off the stick of Howe.
Gartner easily could have had a game-breaking hat trick in the period, as Lindbergh stopped one breakaway with a sensational glove deflection and blocked three other well-aimed shots.
Washington, zero for six on the power play Thursday, had only one extra-man opportunity in the last two periods, as referee Bryan Lewis adhered to his usual "Let-'em-play" philosophy.
"You might know it would work that way," Murray said. "One night our power play flounders and we get six chances. We work on it, we get it looking pretty good and we don't get any chances. In all honesty, though, there wasn't a lot to call. We didn't put enough pressure on them to draw penalties."