Bryan Murray and Duane Sutter put on a show for the Washington Capitals' capacity crowd of 18,130 at Capital Centre yesterday. So did Mike Gartner and Bob Carpenter, whose contributions were far more appreciated.
Gartner broke a 2-2 tie with a pair of goals two minutes apart in the third period. Carpenter set up both of those, then clinched victory with his 38th of the season. And the Capitals completed a home-and-home weekend sweep of the New York Islanders, 5-2.
The Capitals' seventh straight triumph left them seven points ahead of Philadelphia and 15 in front of the Islanders in the Patrick Division. It also left Coach Murray in a better mood than at the end of the second period, when Sutter slashed him in the leg as the teams left the ice.
Washington had nursed a 2-0 lead, built on first-period goals by Craig Laughlin and Larry Murphy, for 36 minutes before Mike Bossy and Patrick Flatley scored within 97 seconds to tie the game.
Instead of panicking, the Capitals struck back 30 seconds later. Carpenter picked off a pass by Islander Gord Dineen to set up a two-on-one with Gartner. Carpenter faked the lone remaining defender, Paul Boutilier, to the ice and fed Gartner, who fired the puck between the legs of goaltender Kelly Hrudey.
"You have to jump right on them in that situation," Carpenter said. "It's a relief for them to tie it up and for a couple of shifts they're kind of lax. We had to force things and get at least a couple of shots. As it turned out, we got a goal."
Two minutes later, Gartner faked a shot that froze Dineen and passed to Carpenter on the right wing. Gartner broke past the bewildered Dineen, took the return pass and netted his 31st goal of the season.
"They battled back, but it took most of the energy out of them to get even," Gartner said. "They were tired by the end of the third period. The pressure was on them after we embarrassed them yesterday, and they obviously felt they had to do something. The way we won it has to help us not only in the standings, but psychologically."
After John Tonelli received a major penalty for high-sticking Murphy in the mouth, Carpenter completed the scoring on a power play rebound of a shot by Scott Stevens.
The game was an extremely physical one, with the Islanders once again exhibiting their hard-hitting playoff style of hockey after losing, 5-1, at the Nassau Coliseum Saturday.
The only injury, however, was to Washington defenseman Darren Veitch, who separated rib cartilage when he stepped on a puck. He will be absent about a week.
"I stepped on the puck and fell on my rear and I felt something pop," Veitch said. "Later, I felt something as I stood up to make a pass and I had to go out. I guess I can play as soon as the pain goes away, which the doctor says should be about a week."
The sideshow involving Murray and Sutter had its roots in the Western League, when Murray was coaching Regina and Sutter was playing for Lethbridge. It has carried over to the NHL, with Sutter earning the nickname "Dog" for the way he yaps at opposing players and Murray not at all hesitant to yell at opponents himself.
There was a major confrontation just before the second period ended, with Gartner cross-checking Denis Potvin as that Islander covered the puck with his body. Potvin rose and swung at Gartner, while Islander Gerry Diduck took a run at Gartner as well.
So tempers were high as the teams left at the intermission and when Murray mingled with the players, Sutter whacked him in the leg.
Linesman Gerry Gauthier was close to the incident, and Murray attempted to have a penalty assessed against Sutter. Instead, he wound up getting one himself, when referee Dave Newell gave him a bench minor for touching Gauthier.
"Duane Sutter was yelling at our bench, as he usually does," Murray said. "I can't blame him, he was trying to stir them up. He was yelling at Stevens and yelling at me, but whenever he was on the ice, you couldn't see him. Oh, if I had Butsy Erickson (5 feet 9, 170 pounds) on him, he'd take a run, but if I sent out Greg Adams (6-1, 190) he'd look for a place to hide.
"As I'm skating off the ice -- I should say walking, I wish I'd been skating -- he puts his stick to me. Gauthier is looking right at us, but when I ask him about it, he tells me he didn't see it. Then Newell tells me I've got a penalty for putting my hands on an official. He offered me the whistle, too."
"I admit I did it," Sutter said. "He's lucky he didn't end up on his back. He keeps going off the ice while the players are going off. What am I supposed to do, get out of his way?
"He's been reported to the league a hundred times for going off with the players, but he keeps doing it. It was a love tap anyway. If I would have hit him, he wouldn't have gotten up."
Potvin was angry with Gartner for the cross-checking incident and complained, "It was totally uncalled for and cheap. It was surprising coming from a player of Gartner's stature. Cross-checking me while I was down covering the puck served no purpose, but I suppose he had his reasons."
Asked about it, Gartner replied, "That had nothing to do with our winning the game, 5-2, but I was going to get him to sign one of these back here that he did."
Gartner then displayed several welts on his back where he had been slashed during the game.
The next meeting of the teams is scheduled March 16. Considering the bruises, of both bodies and feelings, a seven-week cooling-off period should be just right.