Before his Washington Capitals played the Edmonton Oilers Wednesday night, Coach Bryan Murray remarked on his pregame radio show that if the Capitals could stay even for two periods, they would beat the Stanley Cup champions.
That seemed a rash statement, considering that several Capitals had been sick and the team was coming off a highly physical 4-4 tie in Vancouver the night before. Murray proved once again that he knows what he is talking about, however, as the Capitals shattered a 1-1 tie with four third-period goals and thrashed the Oilers, 5-2.
"Maybe that will boost the audience for my radio show, giving them the straight scoop like that," Murray said, laughing. "We had a few things going against us, but I know this team. I know how badly everybody wanted this one."
Murray also had a plan for the third period, if things were close. He adjusted his forechecking pattern, moving the center to a different area, and the Capitals stole the puck at least five times before the Oilers realized what was happening. By then, Washington was ahead to stay.
Afterward, an onslaught of impressed Edmonton media representatives cornered Murray outside the dressing room and he said, "I've never seen so many people in Edmonton, not just media but population-wise. I hope we impressed them. I don't think they tend to give us very much credit.
"That's a great confidence builder for us, especially for Jorgen Pettersson and Al Jensen. Jorgen getting his first goal and the way he did it ought to take away the tightness he's been feeling. And what can you say about Al? He was unbelievable. He's playing just the way he was before he got hurt two years ago, when he was the best in the league."
Jensen faced 40 shots, a high against the Capitals this season. He stopped all 19 in the second period, when Larry Murphy's goal lifted Washington into a 1-1 tie, and he made it possible for the Capitals to break things open with the third-period surge.
At one point early in the third period, one of the Oilers bumped Jensen in a scuffle at the goal mouth and Bill Tuele, Edmonton's public relations director, shouted, "That's the way to get him out of there. Make them put a human being in goal."
After the game, Jensen's partner, Pete Peeters, joked, "They're waiting outside to arrest Al. They call that being a thief."
"We had 19 shots in the second period and no goals, so he must have done something right," said Edmonton goalie Grant Fuhr, who stopped 32 shots himself. "If he didn't play well, we'd have blown them out in the second period. Jensen's a good goaltender. He played like that before until he hurt his back."
"We played strong for two periods, but he held the upper hand," said Wayne Gretzky, who fired nine shots at Jensen in the first two periods. "You've got to get the lead on them. When they get a lead, they protect it well."
The Capitals got the lead for the first time at 1:10 of the third period, when a drive from the right point by Kevin Hatcher was deflected past Fuhr. It appeared that Oilers defenseman Charlie Huddy tipped the puck but it actually was Washington's Lou Franceschetti, who had a good reason for not seeking the glory that would have accompanied his first goal of the season.
"I tipped it, but I didn't want to say anything, because I was afraid they'd say I was in the crease and it wouldn't count," Franceschetti said.
Pettersson made it 3-1 with his first goal in five games as a Capital. He picked off an errant Edmonton pass along the left-wing boards in the Oilers zone, skated toward the slot, spun with a dazzling move that faked defender Randy Gregg to the ice and fired the puck through Fuhr's pads.
Defenseman Don Jackson threw his stick at the puck and referee Ron Hoggarth signaled a delayed penalty. Presumably, it would have meant a penalty shot had Pettersson not scored, and Murray said, "I don't know whether he would have given a penalty shot, but if he hadn't, I was ready to make a strong case for one."
Alan Haworth's 16th goal made it 4-1 with 3:56 left. Like Pettersson's, it was unassisted, Haworth stealing the puck from Marty McSorley behind the Edmonton net and skating in front to lift the puck over the flopping Fuhr.
Mike Gartner netted his 18th goal and first in five games on a rebound of a Bob Gould shot to boost the lead to 5-1 before Jeff Brubaker's last-minute deflection gave the Oilers their second goal.
This was the Capitals' first victory at Northlands Coliseum since their first visit to Edmonton on Oct. 28, 1979. However, Washington usually plays well against the Oilers and last year both games there ended in 3-3 ties.
A year ago, a lot of people were touting the Oilers-Capitals matches as previews of the Stanley Cup final. Obviously, it did not work out that way and this time the Capitals were careful not to be carried away by their success.
"It's a great feeling to come in and win like that, but it's much too early to think Stanley Cup," said defenseman Scott Stevens, selected as one of the three stars along with Jensen and Gretzky. "All we're thinking about now is the road trip. We haven't lost yet and we want to keep it that way."
Clare Rothermel, the scout whose report helped Murray to plan the third-period ambush, said, "That was a very, very important win. It should make the whole road trip. You know that's what all the guys were thinking about before they got to Edmonton. Now, the spillover from winning ought to carry them through Winnipeg and Quebec."