For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals nursed a 4-3 lead through most of the third period last night, then wrapped it up with an empty-net goal. This time, however, they did it with style.
Whereas in Chicago on Sunday they managed only two shots in the third period, the Capitals last night outshot the winless Los Angeles Kings, 15-4, over the last 20 minutes.
That the 5-3 outcome was not settled until Gary Sampson's second goal, into the vacated net, could be attributed to the fine goaltending of the Kings' Bob Janecyk and a whistle that saved Janecyk moments before the puck entered the net.
A classic goal by Bob Carpenter, on which he blocked a rebound in the slot with his backhand before spinning and netting a forehand, built Washington's lead to 4-2 in the first minute of the third period.
Just 27 seconds later, Terry Ruskowski connected for the Kings on a 50-foot drive, with Anders Hakansson screening goalie Al Jensen.
At 4:47, Alan Haworth circled the Los Angeles net and tried to shove the puck past Janecyk. He failed but the puck lay in the crease for some time, with Carpenter hacking at it. By the time Carpenter put it into the net, referee Andy Van Hellemond had whistled play dead.
"I thought it was a goal," Carpenter said. "The puck was still open and I missed it twice before I got it. The goalie never had it, but I guess from the angle Andy was at, he must have thought he did."
After that one got away, the Capitals and the 8,160 fans spent the last 15 minutes wondering whether it would come back to haunt them.
Janecyk made one outstanding save after another, then the Kings became offensive-minded, however briefly. Jensen got his glove on Garry Galley's drive, which he directed wide, and Brian MacLellan and Phil Sykes missed the net before Jensen gloved Marcel Dionne's shot with 2 1/2 minutes left.
Sampson finally ended the suspense with 43 seconds to play, after Scott Stevens had cleared the puck from the Washington end. It made it a big night for the U.S. Olympian, who had scored one goal in 15 regular-season games last year, then one more in eight playoff contests.
"It takes a little pressure off," said Sampson, recalled from Binghamton Saturday to replace Gaetan Duchesne on the Gee Whiz Line with Bob Gould and Glen Currie. "Gouldie and Kid (Currie) play my style and when we're all together and get in there buzzing, we're able to control the puck the way we did on my first goal."
Sampson conceded he was disappointed to be sent to the minors, particularly since he had been one of the Capitals' scoring leaders during the exhibition games, with eight points.
"In the back of my mind, as a rookie, I was feeling good, and I did have a lot of points," he said. "But I guess there were other things I wasn't doing. Now I hope I can stay here. It'll be hard to send me down if I keep getting points."
Once again, the Capitals never trailed, after Dave Christian opened the scoring at 5:46 of the first period.
Ex-Capital Brian Engblom was unable to stop the puck at the Washington blueline and Christian made a quick move past him to knock the puck to Haworth. After Haworth shot, the rebound struck Christian in the leg as he was being hooked by Engblom and trickled past Janecyk.
Stevens' power-play rebound, after Andre Hidi deflected Mike Gartner's drive off Janecyk's pads, made it 2-0. MacLellan got that back on another power play, a short-side shot from the right-wing circle.
Sampson's first goal, a 30-footer from the slot off Currie's feed in the first minute of the second period, put Washington ahead, 3-1. Before the period ended, however, Bernie Nicholls' deflection of MacLellan's shot, with Washington two men short, once again pulled the Kings within one.
Although Jensen faced only 18 shots, he made some good saves at key moments. Coach Bryan Murray was satisfied with the goalie's first outing this season.
"I was really happy with him," Murray said. "He made a couple of excellent stops in the middle stages (on shots) that could have put them back in the hockey game."
There was an unusual fuss in the last minute, after the outcome was decided. First, Van Hellemond issued a bench minor to Los Angeles Coach Pat Quinn, who had complained all night that Christian's goal was offside and that Hidi had interfered with Janecyk on Stevens' score.
Before the puck could be dropped following that penalty, linesman Ray Scapinello waved Carpenter from the faceoff. When Carpenter protested in doubtful language he received an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
The Kings showcased Charlie Simmer, their unhappy left wing who wants to be traded, for the Capitals' benefit, but he obviously was struggling.
"It's a real dilemma for us," Quinn said. "Charlie's an honorable enough guy that it's a dilemma for him, too. It's affecting his whole life, on and off the ice. Charlie makes things happen normally, but obviously not now."
Rogie Vachon, the Kings' general manager, arrived at game time, after his plane was late and he took the wrong exit off the beltway. He acknowledged that Simmer, who sat out the last two games, played tonight because of Washington's interest in him and said he planned to meet with Washington General Manager David Poile today.
"The present situation is not very healthy for the team," Vachon said. "He's still around and he says he wants out. But I've waited this long for a deal, I'll wait a bit more if I have to.
"We can't just lose a 44-goal scorer. We have to get something decent we can live with. It could be a draft pick or it could be a good player. We're building for the future."
As for Simmer, he would love to come to Washington.
"I'd definitely like to play here," he said. "It's a good club and the players work hard. It's worthwhile to me to know they're interested. It's a good feeling to know somebody's interested."