During the Washington Capitals' losing playoff series against the New York Islanders a year ago, Coach Bryan Murray uttered some words that were misunderstood.
After an especially galling defeat, Murray said, "I guess if we want to beat this team, we're going to have to get some bigger and stronger guys."
Actually, Murray had officially been silenced by NHL President John Ziegler for derogatory comments about the officials and this was his way of saying that he felt those officials were permitting the Islanders to get away with physical larceny.
In the ensuing year, however, Murray realized that he would have to find some way to neutralize the obvious strength superiority of the Islanders, since the current playoff setup makes an annual matchup a strong possibility.
Murray found his answer close to home, in two players who began the season in Binghamton and showed that they were deserving of another chance in the National Hockey League.
Accordingly, Greg Adams (Dec. 28) and Lou Franceschetti (Feb. 11) were recalled and gradually worked into the lineup. Although they usually found themselves as fourth-line wingers, Murray had grander plans, which he unfolded in the closing week of the regular season. Adams was placed at left wing with Bob Carpenter and Alan Haworth, Franceschetti with Bengt Gustafsson and Mike Gartner.
Playing in such exalted company, they have prospered. Besides their main task of keeping aggressive Islanders occupied so they don't annoy Washington's scoring stars, Adams and Franceschetti have made offensive contributions of their own.
Franceschetti started the play on which Haworth scored the overtime winner in Wednesday's 4-3 contest. He also scored the Capitals' only regulation goal in Thursday's 2-1, double-overtime triumph.
Adams' contribution was more subtle, although New York Coach Al Arbour would not agree. Checked by Islander Gord Dineen, Adams managed to bump goaltender Kelly Hrudey off balance and ease the way for Gartner's game-winning goal.
Asked about last year's remark, Murray said, "No question, as much as I was being sarcastic, we had a need for big, strong people of our own.
"They aren't hitting us the way they were last year. Having guys like Louie and Greg Adams around tends to discourage them from that sort of thing.
"We've put the two of them in important positions. Playing with Bobby Carpenter and Gus, they get a lot of ice time. They will be very valuable if they just fill the role designed for them. It gives us a chance to be involved in the play, to be strong defensively, to bump occasionally.
"We had a few people who were willing to be involved, but they were our best players. You don't want them going to the penalty box. Louie and Greg have done their job well. We're not expecting a lot of scoring from them, so Louie's goal was a big bonus."
Both Franceschetti and Adams admitted they were discouraged when they started the year in the minors. For Franceschetti, it was especially galling. This is his seventh season in the Capitals' organization, longest in point of service with Glen Currie, and he had played only 35 games for Washington. Three of those games were in last year's playoffs against the Islanders. He replaced Bob Gould, who suffered a fractured collarbone, and played so well that he earned a year's extension on his expiring contract.
"This year more than any I thought of packing it in," Franceschetti said. "With the way I played in the playoffs last year, I thought I deserved a chance. But there's a lot of depth here and they didn't see it that way.
"I got a good start in Binghamton and I got my head on straight. I was playing well every game and it snowballed. The team was doing well and everything came together.
"Bryan always told me my problem was that I wasn't consistent and when I came back, he told me he'd sit me out if I took a night off. That's what he did. It was like a kick in the pants. Actually, I know when I'm not playing well, but some guys need a kick.
"I can see their point. On an 80-game basis, they want consistency through 70 or 75 games. They'll give you a few when you're not feeling well and some guys with a lot of skills can get away with a few (more), but my skills aren't in that class.
"I have to make things happen, bump and grind, get a few hits . . . If I'm not involved in the bumping and I'm not getting the puck, I know I'm not playing my game."
Franceschetti obviously has been playing his game against the Islanders, driving Patrick Flatley to such distraction that the rookie whacked Franceschetti with his stick in the third period Wednesday and received a major penalty. Although Washington could not exploit the power play, the penalty served to help wear down some tiring Islanders.
"Louie has had up-and-down times," Murray said. "He'd come up and play three or four good games and then he'd let himself off. He can earn himself a permanent job for some time if he can just keep playing the way he is now. He has such strong legs that it gives him a lot of leverage when he hits somebody. He's not that big (6 feet, 190) but he can throw some solid checks."
Adams suffered through a dreadful season a year ago, scoring only two goals in 57 games and suiting up for only one playoff contest. To start this season in Binghamton was hardly a confidence builder.
"I was pretty much discouraged, but I was trying to do the best I could at Binghamton," Adams said.
"My role was established long ago. I'll never be a great goal scorer, but I have to go up and down my wing, play strong defensively and go to the net aggressively. I can muck in the corners and do some hitting, create something once in a while. I'm always trying to screen the goalie and if I can get the defenseman to push me into the crease, like he (Dineen) did the other night, that's just fine."
"Greg is banging and he's involved," Murray said. "He's handling the puck better, he's sticking his nose into a situation and he'll do whatever he has to do to contribute.
"Another big thing is that he's excited about playing. That gets to be contagious and it's giving us a big lift."