Suddenly, the Washington Capitals have five 20-goal scorers. Scott Stevens and Alan Haworth joined that club yesterday in the Capitals' 7-3 romp over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital Centre.
Haworth reached 20 for the fourth straight season. But it was a first for Stevens, who naturally displayed more excitement, especially since his second-period power play score occurred on another of those crazy bounces in which he has been involved recently.
"I don't set any goals, because then you're always worried about getting the next one," Stevens said. "But I'm very happy to get 20. That's a good figure for a defenseman.
"I had to laugh about that goal today. I was trying to pass to (Bengt) Gustafsson, who was wide open at the far post. But their guy tried to cut it off and it hit his stick and went in the net, the way it hit mine in Montreal."
Stevens' goal gave Washington a 4-2 lead, which quickly was trimmed when Pittsburgh's Mike Bullard walked in and beat goalie Al Jensen after just 20 seconds of the third period.
The Capitals were in control of the play, however, and they eventually put the game away on goals by Mike Gartner, Bob Gould and Haworth.
Gartner's 46th came on his second breakaway of the game. He took Lou Franceschetti's headman pass and, where he had unsuccessfully tried the backhand earlier, he kept the puck on his forehand, waited until goalie Brian Ford dove at him and flipped the puck into the open net.
With an earlier assist, Gartner has 96 points, a career high. He conceded that 50 goals and 100 points would be fine numbers to put in the record book.
"That would be nice, and I'd be foolish to say I wouldn't want it," he said. "But there are only six games left and I have to take them one at a time. It's nothing that I can let affect me one way or the other."
Gould posted Washington's fourth short-handed goal of the season, with Timo Blomqvist off for holding. Gould stole the puck from Warren Young in the Pittsburgh end, skated in quickly and deked Ford before flipping the puck behind him.
"That was a real New Hampshire move," exulted Rod Langway, a college teammate of Gould for two seasons with the Wildcats.
Haworth completed the scoring with his 20th, converting Craig Laughlin's pass from behind the Pittsburgh goal line.
The third-period blowout was in complete contrast to the first 20 minutes, when the Penguins sailed in on Jensen as if they were conducting a shooting drill without defensemen.
Jensen stopped ex-Capital Jim McGeough on a breakaway in the first minute, and on four other occasions Penguins went in alone on good scoring opportunities.
Despite the early problems, the Capitals never trailed. Franceschetti opened the scoring by feeding Gartner from the right wing corner, then moving into position to convert the rebound of Gartner's shot.
It was the fourth goal for Franceschetti, whose second appearance in two weeks was enhanced to first-star status largely through the assignment of Gartner and Bob Carpenter as linemates.
"I just try to work hard and get the puck up to them and they make it happen," Franceschetti said. "I wasn't working hard enough before and I was taking things for granted. I'm just glad I'm still here and I got another chance."
When Young came down the left wing unopposed, Jensen overplayed the angle and was beaten on the short side. It was the 36th goal by Young, a 29-year-old rookie.
Washington regained the lead when Gustafsson faked defender Joe McDonnell out of his path and beat Ford on the glove side for his fifth goal in six games.
The Penguins tied it again on a power play goal by Randy Hillier, after Jensen had been penalized for tripping Young. Hillier moved in from the left point and was unguarded at the left post when he took a pass from Mario Lemieux.
Regrouping in the dressing room, the Capitals outshot Pittsburgh by 16-3 in the second period and took a 4-2 lead on power play goals by Mike McEwen and Stevens.
McEwen's 11th goal, which put Washington ahead to stay, came with the Penguins' Rod Buskas in the penalty box. That was the result of a jolting check by Franceschetti, who was smart enough to turn away when Buskas retaliated with a high stick.
McEwen picked off penalty-killer Mitch Lamoureux's attempted clear at the left point and beat Ford, who was screened and never moved. McEwen was playing his 600th NHL game after sitting out Friday's contest with Montreal. It was the second time he was assigned press-box duty since he joined the Capitals in November and the second time he returned with a big goal. "I've played 600 games and watched about 120," McEwen said, laughing. "I've been around a lot longer than just 600."
Overlapping penalties to Hillier and Greg Fox gave Washington a two-man advantage for 78 seconds. Ford stopped the only two shots sent his way in that stretch, but 16 seconds after Hillier returned, Stevens netted his 20th for a 4-2 lead.
Several of the Capitals played despite varying degrees of stomach flu that forced them out of Saturday's practice. Among the hardest hit were McEwen, Jensen and Larry Murphy, all of whom played well.
"I cramped up violently, I had sore muscles and I was dehydrated," said McEwen, whose discomfort increased when Fox tripped him and he landed on the small of his back. "At practice yesterday, I didn't sweat for half an hour, even when I drank a lot of water. It was like food poisoning."
"At 8:30 last night, it seemed we'd be a few short today," Coach Bryan Murray said. "But this morning, all the guys said they could play. Maybe having extra guys around had something to do with it."