As a playoff preview, the New York Islanders' 6-4 victory over the Washington Capitals Saturday did not provide pleasant prospects for either team in what is becoming a likely first-round matchup. Whichever survives, it is certain to carry the wounds of battle into the divisional final.
The teams pounded each other physically in the Islanders' Nassau Coliseum, with referee Bob Myers passing out 36 minutes in penalties to Washington, 34 to the Islanders.
Players on both sides went out of their way to deliver punishing checks. Many whistles were accompanied by shoving, stick swipes, punches and harsh words. There were attempts to lure stars into combat.
The Islanders took the hardest blow. Center Brent Sutter, a 100-point scorer, suffered an injury to his right shoulder when checked by Larry Murphy. His status is to be announced Monday, but the preliminary diagnosis was a dislocation.
Players on both teams conceded that much of the physical emphasis of the game was directed toward laying the foundation for the probable playoff matchup.
"We're two good hockey teams and nobody wants to give an inch, because we know there's a good chance we'll be playing each other in the playoffs," said Islander Duane Sutter, who was involved in fights with both Peter Andersson and Bob Carpenter. "We don't want to give them anything now -- or later."
"We're both trying to show the other and set things up for the playoffs," said Washington's Craig Laughlin. "We've got a good rivalry going and we play tough, grind-it-out hockey."
Scott Stevens, who delivered solid checks on Duane Sutter and Mike Bossy, indicated that the Capitals would be passing out more punishment to the Islanders in the future.
"When I get a good hit like the one on Sutter, it makes me feel good," Stevens said. "He's always trying to start something and I can't fight him, because I need to be on the ice, not in the penalty box.
"But any time I can hit him with a clean check, I'll do it. We need more good hits. We need to run Denis Potvin more; we ought to run him every time we can. And we have to hit Bossy more, too."
Of Duane Sutter, who has been irritating so many Capitals, including Coach Bryan Murray, defenseman Murphy said, "A lot of guys are getting upset with him, but you have to let him do it. If he fights two guys on our team, he's done his job. If their better players want to fight, that's a different story."
"We have to ignore him," winger Mike Gartner said. "It's easy to say, but it's something we have to do. We have to live with the referees, too, no matter how tough it is. Scotty lands a good hit and he gets an extra two minutes, which isn't fair. But the game's not fair sometimes."
The Capitals got away with minimal hitting during their marvelous 28-5-3 stretch from late November to early February. But they will need to be more physig slanders, which will provide the chance to regain bragging rights before the playoffs.
In Sunday games: The New York Rangers, at home, won their first game in the last six, a 7-3 victory over New Jersey, and widened their Patrick Division fourth-place lead to five points over Pittsburgh; Hartford broke a 13-game home winless streak by defeating the Penguins, 4-3; Winnipeg ran off four goals in a nine-minute span of the third period to beat visiting Buffalo, 5-3; Denis Savard broke a deadlock with a power play goal early in the third period to help Chicago to a 6-4 victory in Vancouver, and Kings' winger Brian MacLellan knocked in his own rebound one minute into the third period as Los Angeles held on to defeat Edmonton, 5-4, in Inglewood, Calif.