The Washington Capitals pulled one out of the flames last night at Capital Centre and, for the first time, finished October with a winning record. Mike Gartner's overtime goal defeated Calgary, 4-3, after Bryan Erickson's first score of the season tied it with 96 seconds left in regulation time.
This was a game the Capitals (4-3-2) should have wrapped up early. But Calgary goalie Don Edwards kept it close with 31 saves and, after Gartner and Erickson missed chances to break a 2-2 tie in the third period, Eddy Beers sent the Flames in front with 4:32 remaining.
"We were tired, it was hot out there and the ice was soft," Gartner said. "But all the players dug deep and went down for that extra 10 percent that was buried. We needed this game."
This was only the second overtime victory in the Capitals' history, along with four losses and seven ties. For the Flames, it was the first regular-season overtime defeat, after four victories and 14 ties. Calgary also had won four sudden-death games in the NHL playoffs since last losing in extra time in 1982, just before Coach Bob Johnson arrived.
Washington goaltender Pat Riggin struggled much of the night, but he shrugged off the boos from the Capital Centre crowd of 9,416 and made a superb stop on Hakan Loob, set up in front by Dan Quinn, to maintain a one-goal deficit with two minutes left in regulation.
When play moved to the other end, Timo Blomqvist blocked an attempted Calgary clear at the blueline. He shot wide and Gartner picked it up behind the goal line, then fed Erickson in front.
"Mike had his back turned to me and I yelled at him," Erickson said. "He turned around and put it right on my stick. He (Edwards) was against the pipe playing Mike and I had the whole net. But I wasn't taking any chances. I just slammed it. I wasn't going to wait for him to slide over there."
Washington attempted all three shots in the overtime. Gartner set up his winner by prying the puck from Jim Peplinski in the Capitals' end and carrying it down the left side. He cut inside the defense and fed Bob Carpenter, whose shot struck Erickson's leg and caromed directly onto Gartner's stick for an easy score.
"Their defense was cheating on me outside all night, so I gave him an outside fake and cut toward the middle," Gartner said. "Butsy Erickson was in front of the net and Bobby Carpenter was wide open on the other side. I passed to Bobby and he shot it, but it hit Butsy's foot and just happened to come where I was. It was an empty-net goal."
"I was jumping to get out of the way, but it hit me in the leg and went right to Garts," Erickson said. "It probably would have gone straight in -- at least Bobby says it would have."
It would have been Carpenter's 100th NHL goal. His 99th opened the scoring, on the rebound of a shot by Darren Veitch for the first of two Washington power-play goals in the first period.
The goal marked the first time in their 11 games this season that the Flames (7-4) had not scored first.
It became 2-0 on Craig Laughlin's first goal of the season, which caromed in off defender Jamie Macoun after Alan Haworth had made the centering pass.
The Capitals had a 15-6 shooting edge in the period and could think back to a number of missed chances to increase the lead.
"We played so well in the early part, but it was only 2-0 when it should have been four or five," Coach Bryan Murray said. "Edwards was excellent, but we had some point-blank shots. We're just having trouble scoring goals."
Early in the second period Colin Patterson -- like Laughlin, from Clarkson College -- beat Riggin from the slot on a setup by Richard Kromm.
Then, after many botched chances by the Capitals, Quinn pulled the Flames even during a four-on-four situation. Riggin started to play the puck with his forehand, moved to the backhand and finally tried to cover it with his glove. Amid the hesitation, Quinn raced in and poked it into the empty net.
Early in the third period, the Capitals had numerous chances to end the tie. Erickson intercepted Paul Baxter's half-speed pass behind the Calgary net and stepped out front to send a backhander into the net. Edwards recovered and blocked it.
"I had him if I'd shot right away, but I had trouble moving the puck from my forehand to backhand and I had to hurry it," Erickson said. "I've had chances every game, that's what was so frustrating until I finally put one in."
After Erickson failed, Gartner had his first chance to be a hero. He got loose behind Allan MacInnis, took a pass and shot. The sound of metal was lost in the crowd noise.
"I thought I took a very good shot, but it hit right where the crossbar meets the post and sailed into the stands," Gartner said. "It was off by an inch."
Beers broke the tie by skating in from an acute angle at Riggin's right. Although Riggin seemingly had the post covered, the puck got through him and brought forth an echo of the earlier boos.
"It was the result of a lack of confidence," Riggin said. "You get down on yourself. I'd given up three bad goals in the last two games and I wasn't as sharp as I was. But I don't feel guilty about picking up my paycheck."
After the save on Loob, he probably deserved a little extra.
The Flames complained bitterly afterward about the condition of the ice. They had some unhappy evidence to support the charges.
Left wing Jim Jackson suffered a broken right ankle in the first period when his skate became caught in a rut in the ice as he was checked by Haworth.
"I hit him and when he went down, his body turned and his leg caught in the ice," Haworth said. "It was bad. The puck didn't want to come with us. You'd wind up and the ice would slow it right down."
"The ice was lousy," Johnson said. "That's why our guy broke his leg."