Scott Stevens' birthday present to Coach Bryan Murray lacked only gift wrapping last night. Stevens' shot from the left point at 1:29 of sudden-death overtime gave the Washington Capitals a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues at Capital Centre.
The only Capitals not celebrating were forwards David Jensen and Gary Sampson. It was announced after the game that they had been assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
The teams had been stalemated for more than 48 minutes when Stevens wound up and then leaped with delight as teammate Craig Laughlin blocked goaltender Rick Wamsley's view and the puck went into the net.
The victory, on Murray's 43rd birthday, extended Washington's unbeaten streak in overtime to 18 games -- six wins and 12 ties -- since they last were defeated in Winnipeg on Feb. 19, 1984.
The Blues, losing for the first time in their last nine overtime games, have been the NHL's masters of the extra five minutes since overtime was restored in 1983. This was only their third loss in 33 such games.
The win moved the Capitals within five points of Patrick Division leader Philadelphia, which was upset at home by Toronto.
"It's nice winning like that, and I'm happy for Bryan," said Stevens, who scored a goal for the third straight game and earlier last night recorded his 100th NHL assist. "It's great getting two points instead of one and closing some ground on the Flyers.
"Craig Laughlin deserves a lot of credit for that goal. It wasn't a hard shot. It was a screen shot and Locker was standing right in front of him so he couldn't see it. He did the same thing Saturday in New Jersey. A guy's not going to score much from the point unless somebody's in front of the goalie."
Laughlin and Wamsley played together with Montreal's AHL team in Nova Scotia, and Laughlin had some fun talking about his part in the big goal.
"I just stood there and said, 'How do you do?' and he said, 'Fine,' and then I said, 'Goodbye,' " Laughlin said. "I'm very good friends with Walmer, but I was glad to see that one go in.
"I didn't think it was going in. I thought it would hit me or hit something else, the way it usually does. Usually, I stop, but this time I decided I wouldn't just stand there and I was skating through as Scotty shot. I think Walmer took his eye off it and, when I turned around, it was in.
"Our line struggled tonight and before the overtime we talked and said, 'Let's do something and win the game.' "
Asked how he liked his birthday present, Murray said, "They could have done it earlier. But we're confident when we go into overtime. We know we're not going to give up very many chances, so it gives us a lot of confidence.
"We change a little bit. We try to put the puck in the opposite corner and make their defenseman turn and go after it. Then we break for the net. Locker made a heck of a play going for the net. Wamsley couldn't have seen that shot."
The rest of the scoring was crammed into the first 13 minutes. Mike Gartner got his 17th goal at 1:11 on a power-play setup by Bengt Gustafsson, and said, "Those quick goals are usually happening against us. This time, it was nice to get ahead, but we let them off the hook."
Joe Mullen's power-play goal pulled the Blues even at 7:30. Then Washington's Dave Christian got his 15th at 11:32 on an unassisted effort from the blueline, faking defenseman Bruce Bell one way and Wamsley the other.
St. Louis captain Brian Sutter tied it at 12:45 on the finish of a two-on-one with Bernie Federko and then the goaltenders took over.
Wamsley was outstanding over the first 10 minutes of the third period, when the Capitals had a 10-1 advantage in shots. Then, over the last 10 minutes of regulation, Washington's Pete Peeters had a couple of tough calls as the Blues had a 4-1 shot margin while both teams played cautiously.
"That's the way our luck has been -- a screen shot gets in after they've hardly had a shot for 15 minutes," Federko said.
The demotion of Jensen and Sampson was no surprise. With winger Ed Kastelic making his NHL debut last night, the Capitals had three extra players and Murray had indicated Wednesday that one or two might be sent down.
"With David Jensen, it's a matter of playing some games," Murray said. "We thought by keeping him here the coaching staff could do more with him, but when we dressed him we weren't getting him in games enough. He needs to get some confidence. He needs to play six or seven games and then we'll evaluate his situation.
"With Gary Sampson, it was a numbers game. He's the type of player who's good in his end, doesn't give the puck away and is a good defensive player. But he's not going to score a lot of goals and we went to a tougher type of guy (Kastelic), for the next few games at least."