Coach Bryan Murray of the Washington Capitals sat in the stands tonight. He found the view no better than recent glimpses from behind the bench.
The New Jersey Devils snapped an eight-game losing streak by defeating the Capitals, 3-2. It was only the second time Washington has lost to New Jersey in 21 games over the past three seasons.
The Capitals, who were beaten by Hartford, another last-place team, Wednesday night, have dropped seven of 11. Tonight, they also saw any mathematical hope of a first-place finish in the Patrick Division disappear and must be thankful there is no way they can fall lower than second.
Tim Higgins broke a 2-2 tie with an unassisted goal at 1:30 of the third period and the Devils made it stand up.
Higgins controlled the puck after it caromed off the skate of Washington's Darren Veitch at center ice. Higgins went in on a breakaway, lured Pat Riggin out of position and beat him with a shot low on the stick side.
"Veitch had the puck in his feet and went to kick it," Higgins said. "It went off my shin pad and his momentum carried him the other way. (Rod) Langway hooked my jersey, but I got away from him and as soon as I started to cut in, I dropped ny shoulder. I could see him (Riggin) start to move and when he moved I had him."
"The puck was coming to the middle and it was bouncing when I went to it," Veitch said. "It went off my skate and I tried to get it with my stick, but it was still bouncing and he got it and went in on the break."
The other big man for New Jersey was Ron Low, who was the Capitals' first goaltender ever. Low stopped 26 shots, several in sensational fashion, and gained a measure of revenge for the game nine days ago when he was charged with two costly penalties that helped Washington beat New Jersey, 4-1.
"There's no pressure on us now and we're playing for fun," Low said. "Tonight was a lot of fun. Washington was the first place I was for any time and even though there's nobody left from when I played, it's nice to beat them."
There was potential for trouble when Low stopped a shot by Mike Gartner in the first minute and Bob Carpenter, whose poke in the shoulder enraged Low last time, crashed into the goalie going for the rebound. This time, the two arose without incident.
"He didn't stick me this time," Low said. "If he had, it would have been the same result. I won't change about that."
Murray, whose brother Terry performed the bench duties tonight for the first time since the exhibition season, spoke to the team after walking down from his seat in the stands, where he went "to look at a few guys from the different perspective." Judging by the expression on his face when he entered the dressing room, his words were stinging.
"Tonight you saw it as I saw it," Murray told the media. "Once we got behind, it looked like we had no chance to win it. They were stronger in most situations and we didn't fight back. A few individuals did, but as a team we didn't.
"We made poor passes at least 50 times, our breakout was slow and passive much of the time and it got us in trouble. Each line had two guys playing and a third not contributing much. We've been playing like this since the All-Star break."
The Devils never led until Higgins completed the scoring. Carpenter produced the only goal of the first period, his 51st, and it was matched by Paul Gagne early in the second.
Riggin stopped a breakaway by Rick Meagher, but Veitch lost his balance and crashed into the goalie, leaving Gagne an easy rebound. Gagne scored just as Riggin banged into the rear post, dislodging the net. Riggin, winless in seven March games, bruised his back but finished the contest.
Alan Haworth's 21st goal put Washington back in front less than two minutes later. It was controversial, with goal judge Tom Segreto flashing the red light for an instant and then waving it off.
Play continued for several seconds before linesman Ron Finn persuaded referee Denis Morel to blow his whistle. Morel then had a discussion by phone with Segreto before permitting the goal.
The replay clearly showed the puck striking the rear post and popping quickly out. However, the Devils, who have been burned in similar circumstances this season, argued at length. Low, whose reaction at the time clearly indicated that the puck was in, did not participate in the protest.
Kirk Muller tied it at 2 with 36 seconds left in the second period, at the exact second a penalty against Washington's Greg Adams expired. Muller took Doug Sulliman's pass as he cut down the slot and flipped the puck over Riggin's shoulder.
Low made several outstanding saves on Gartner, somehow getting his shoulder on a backhander after Gartner had skated past defensemen Phil Russell and Bob Lorimer.
"It was frustrating," Gartner said. What else is new for the Capitals?