Games between the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils usually have two things in common. They are boring to watch and the Devils don't win.
Today the hockey world turned upside down. The two teams provided nonstop action for 60 minutes -- and New Jersey beat Washington, 5-3, for the first time in 18 meetings.
A couple of fluke goals gave the Devils a 2-0 lead and the Capitals never caught up, although they reduced the deficit to one goal on three occasions before Rich Preston sealed it into an empty net.
Finnish goalie Hannu Kamppuri, playing for the first time in 17 days, earned his first National Hockey League victory with a 22-save effort that included some big stops early in the first period.
"The early pressure helped me, because I got my confidence," said Kamppuri, one-time teammate of Washington defenseman Timo Blomqvist. "I thought the team got confidence in me after that. It's always tough against a team like Washington that tries to jam in front of the net, but the team kept the crease open."
"Confidence is a great part of the battle," said New Jersey Coach Doug Carpenter. "I like the way Hannu played and I like the way the team protected him. He didn't have to put up with the jamming tonight that he did in other games."
Meanwhile, at the other end, Pat Riggin was the victim of two of the stranger goals that have afflicted the Capitals this season.
Riggin forced Mel Bridgman wide on a short-handed breakaway in the first period, with the puck popping off the side of the net. Defenseman Mike McEwen controlled it, but as he tried to knock it out of danger, it hit Larry Murphy's skate and caromed in front, where Kirk Muller had a tap-in for a 1-0 lead.
"I picked up the puck and went to go behind the net," McEwen said. "Their guy was coming one way and Murph the other. I went to put it by Murphy -- the kind of thing you do without trouble 99 times out of a hundred -- and it hit his foot and went right out in front."
The Devils' second goal early in the second period was even more weird. With New Jersey on a power play, Dave Pichette dumped the puck down the right wing boards. Riggin went behind the net to play it and could only watch helplessly as the puck struck an outcropping board and caromed into the slot, where Tim Higgins poked it into the vacated net.
"Those first couple of goals came on real bad breaks, but when you work hard, you get the breaks," said Washington's Scott Stevens. "They're a good team and they worked hard today."
Stevens worked hard, too, and his 10th goal halved the deficit 70 seconds later. It was a power play score, with Stevens anchored in front and converting Craig Laughlin's feed from behind the goal line.
The Capitals exerted tremendous pressure the rest of the second period without scoring. On one occasion, after Peter Andersson cut in and shot, Kamppuri lost his stick. The puck lay in front of the goalie as he tried to control it and both Alan Haworth and Bryan Erickson swept by without managing to lift it in.
Suddenly, the Devils broke out of their end and Aaron Broten, after taking a pass from Muller, hit the far corner from the left wing circle to make it 3-1. Kamppuri was credited with his first NHL assist on that one.
Early in the third period, some sharp passing by Bob Gould, Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson left Gould open in front for his eighth goal.
However, with Mike Gartner off for hooking, New Jersey's power play clicked again, as Bridgman cut down the slot, took Higgins' pass from behind the goal line and lifted the puck over Riggin's left shoulder.
Washington pulled within 4-3 on its second power play score with 10:01 remaining. Stevens took Gartner's pass in the left-wing circle and, instead of shooting, passed out to Murphy, who shot the puck between Kamppuri's legs.
The Capitals had their chances down the stretch. Defenseman Bob Lorimer broke up Christian's pass to Gustafsson on a two-on-one and Kamppuri stopped Haworth from close range.
Riggin stopped two two-on-one breaks and with 55 seconds left, he was lifted for a sixth skater. When Christian lost control of the puck in the Washington end, Preston, who had suffered an eight-stitch cut above his left eye in the first period, got the final score.
It was a big victory for Carpenter, a one-time teammate of Washington Coach Bryan Murray at McDonald College in Montreal, and for Max McNab, the former Washington general manager who now holds that position with the Devils.
"I was in the same class at college as Bryan, and as Bryan's wife," Carpenter said. "I played football with Bryan, I played hockey with him and I know him well. But I look at it as beating teams, not people. What means most to me is that we're over 13 (now 14-23-4), we're only four points behind Pittsburgh and this was a four-point game in our division."