The Washington Capitals picked an unlikely location to regain their sagging confidence tonight. Charging ahead in the first period for the third straight game, the Capitals this time stayed on top to the finish and posted their first victory, 5-3, over the Chicago Black Hawks.
It was only the third success in 19 trips to Chicago Stadium for the Capitals and a standing-room-only crowd of 16,652 responded with jeers for the unlucky home club.
"It's tough to win here," said Mike Gartner, whose power-play score midway through the first period gave Washington the lead for good. "The people, the size of the rink (12 feet shorter than normal) and the Black Hawks themselves make it tough. They play with a lot of emotion and try to run you out early. But if you can get ahead and the fans get on them, it's a different story."
Tonight the Capitals' early lead, the manner in which Glen Currie and Bob Gould broke up the Hawks' power plays and the untimely wandering of goalie Murray Bannerman served to unsettle the crowd, which chanted "Tony" after most of the Washington goals in memory of departed netminder Tony Esposito, released by the Hawks in unhappy circumstances.
The Capitals suffered through some nervous moments after rookie Ed Olczyk reduced their margin to 4-3 with 13:51 left in regulation time. The worst came when Tom Lysiak sent Darryl Sutter in alone on a breakaway, only to have Sutter lose control as he attempted to deke goalie Pat Riggin.
Gould finally ended the agony on an empty-net score with 17 seconds left, marking only the second shot of the period for Washington. Chicago had just seven in the final 20 minutes, as the Capitals concentrated on clearing the zone and benefited from some sturdy defensive play by Darren Veitch, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens.
"Last year we were so good in the third period -- if we got a goal ahead it was no contest," said Alan Haworth. "This year we're shaky in the third period. But this win ought to give us a big confidence lift, after we missed out on last night's game (a 4-2 loss to Philadelphia)."
It was Haworth who opened the scoring into a vacated net after Bannerman blocked Bob Carpenter's shot, chased the rebound into the left-wing circle and couldn't get back.
Bill Gardner's third goal, a tap-in of Steve Ludzik's cross-crease pass, tied it before Gartner beat defender Doug Wilson down the right side and sidestepped the challenging Bannerman to put the puck past him.
The score accelerated from 2-1 to 4-2 in the space of 81 seconds in the second period.
Jim McGeough netted his first NHL goal on a rebound, as Bannerman again chased the puck and was caught out of the net.
"He kicked it right back to me and I got it before he did," McGeough said. "The defenseman (Bob Murray) had a little hook on me, but I didn't even look. I just swung and got it in."
Seventy seconds later Chicago's Al Secord put his own rebound past Riggin and it was 3-2. But Haworth's fine pass sent Carpenter in on a breakaway 11 seconds after that and he slipped a backhander behind Bannerman following a clever deke.
"The last two times I shot on the forehand and missed the net," Carpenter said of the goal that became the game-winner. "This time I decided to try the backhand. I opened the face of my stick and he went the other way. He could never get back to stop it."
Troy Murray's feed from behind the net found Olczyk alone for the Hawks' third goal, but Riggin and his helpers kept the home club off the board until Gould insured the triumph.
"I'll take an easy day tomorrow," said Riggin, who stopped 18 shots while playing his third tension-packed game in four nights.
Center Bengt Gustafsson limped off early in the second period after he injured his right hamstring trying to split the Chicago defense on a power play. It was the same muscle Gustafsson hurt during the Canada Cup, but he said after the game, "It's not so serious. It's feeling better already."
Coach Bryan Murray was not especially pleased with the absence of any offensive moves in the third period, but he was relieved to get that first victory, after an 0-7 start a year ago. "We sat on the lead instead of going at them as much as we should have," Murray said. "But getting the win should give us the assurance and confidence we need to play our type of game. After last night I was concerned, especially coming into Chicago where it's tough to win at any time."