The top two teams in the National Hockey League, the Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals, collide here Saturday night in a game some people consider a preview of the Stanley Cup final. For the Capitals, it carries a variety of other meanings.
"It's only one game of the season," Mike Gartner said. "It's the 13th day of a 14-day road trip. It's two points like any other game. No question, we can use the two points, the way Philly's coming on."
Gartner scored three goals in Vancouver Thursday night as the Capitals defeated the Canucks, 6-2, and maintained their three-point Patrick Division lead over the Flyers, who are idle Saturday.
Two other wingers, Greg Adams and Lou Franceschetti, made themselves noticed in Vancouver. Adams scored two goals, giving him four in four games. Franceschetti earned his third assist in four games and delivered another devastating check, sending Thomas Gradin off the ice for treatment.
With Bengt Gustafsson and Gary Sampson about ready to return to action, there are sure to be personnel changes. Adams and Franceschetti, both of whom began the season in Binghamton, want everyone to know that they would prefer to stay in Washington.
"I don't want to sound arrogant, but I think I've been playing pretty well the last few weeks," said Adams, a British Columbia native who was excused from Wednesday's practice to attend to personal matters in his home town of Duncan.
"I didn't get a point in L.A., but I thought it was one of my best games. Overall, things just didn't go well for the team. But I've had a lot of confidence since I've been back.
"The goal in Winnipeg was nice, because it was nice to get a bit of a roll going. I hadn't had a lot of good chances before that."
Coach Bryan Murray, impressed by Adams' hustle of late, had him playing alongside Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin Thursday, and Adams benefited from excellent passes by Jarvis to score his two goals.
"Who you play with matters, too," Murray said. "Doug Jarvis made a couple of great passes, where Greg hadn't been getting that sort of help on his other line. He's keeping his head up around the net and he held the puck when necessary to get the good shots."
Franceschetti's savage but legal shoulder check on Gradin was his second memorable hit since being recalled from Binghamton Feb. 11. He blasted Randy Carlyle in Winnipeg, a check that put Carlyle out of action with a bruised shoulder.
"He was going for the puck and I had him lined up from the start," Franceschetti said of the check on Gradin. "I couldn't have gotten him much better."
This is Franceschetti's seventh season in the Washington organization, but he has played only 39 games as a Capital. The big rap against him in the past has been his inability to maintain intensity for more than a few games.
Asked if he knew roster changes were upcoming, Franceschetti replied, "I'm well aware of it. It doesn't bother me. I'm playing the game I've got to play to stay, taking the body and getting something going offensively."
Murray has been concerned with the Capitals' lack of aggressiveness and he has been pleased with Franceschetti's physical play.
"He's giving us a little bit of what we need," Murray said. "We need some bodies taken and every night he gets at least one great hit. He's standing up for himself, too. That's important."
After Gradin was helped off, the Canucks took some runs at Franceschetti. Cam Neely cross-checked him down from behind and Franceschetti rose and started swinging. Although it would have taken a big bribe for a judge to vote Franceschetti the decision, in the NHL the willingness to fight is more important than the result.
Terry Murray, the Capitals' assistant coach, credits Franceschetti's leg strength for his ability to land heavy checks in open ice.
"Louie gets his legs set and leans his body into the guy," Murray said. "He has tremendous leg strength and he knows how to use it. Next time, Gradin will be sure to have his head up."
Although the Capitals have won only once in Edmonton since the Oilers joined the NHL in 1979, Bryan Murray was hoping for better results this time, particularly since he had an opportunity to watch Wayne Gretzky and friends play Quebec tonight.
"A win here would give us a winning record on the road trip, and we can't ask for more than that," Murray said.