The Washington Capitals hardly could be blamed for failing to pay close attention to forward Steve Ludzik during the team meeting before last night's Capital Centre game against the Chicago Black Hawks. They had considerable reason to talk about him afterward, though.
Ludzik, who entered the game without a point, scored three goals and set up Denis Savard for the winner as the Black Hawks twice erased two-goal deficits to defeat the Capitals, 7-4.
Chicago goalie Bob Sauve stopped 41 shots as the Capitals sent a season-high 45 at him. Dave Christian became the first Capital to reach 20 goals, but there was little reason to celebrate, especially since Philadelphia won at Calgary, 6-5, to move 10 points ahead of Washington.
"When you give up seven, you have to score eight to win, and we don't win many like that," Christian said. "Obviously, we gave them too many chances. We were told that going in, but we still didn't play tight enough."
Probably most surprised of all by what transpired before 16,777 fans was Ludzik. He suffered a broken left foot in the Black Hawks' fifth game, on Oct. 19, and had played only a few shifts in two games earlier this week before he was thrust into the spotlight with Washington ahead, 2-0.
Ludzik scored twice within three minutes to tie it at 2-2. Then, with the Capitals leading, 4-3, late in the second period, he finished off his first NHL hat trick to tie it again.
It was the second of five straight Chicago goals that left the Capitals reeling with only their third loss in 19 games. Ludzik's rinkwide pass found Savard open in the right-wing circle with eight minutes left, and Savard hit the far corner to put the Black Hawks ahead to stay. Ken Yaremchuk and Keith Brown, into an empty net, completed the scoring.
"Coming back from the broken foot was the hardest thing I ever had to do," Ludzik said. "I was in the best shape of my life in training camp, then I broke a bone in my foot in half. It was in a cast for 8 1/2 weeks and then I had to start over.
"I said I'd play a week after the cast came off, but I got my eyes opened. What really helped me was (assistant coach) Cliff Koroll working with me a half hour after practice every day. He had me skating so hard I was almost sick."
The Capitals were feeling a bit sick after watching this one get away. They were looking for their second straight sweep of the Black Hawks and, after Bengt Gustafsson and Alan Haworth scored 49 seconds apart in the first period, it seemed likely.
A fight between Chicago's Behn Wilson and Washington's Scott Stevens, which Wilson initiated with a cross check after Stevens had blasted Rick Paterson, seemed to get the Black Hawks going. Stevens needed four stitches on his left arm and missed several shifts.
Chicago had put only two shots on Al Jensen in the first 11 1/2 minutes, but suddenly the puck was flying at him from all angles. Jensen blocked two deflections, a point-blank drive by Savard and a close-up shot by Ludzik, before the red light began heating up behind him.
"We have to think defense first and not give up quality chances that make our goaltender go sprawling all over the place," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We gave up a lot of chances that cost us. It became an 'I' game rather than a 'we' game."
Christian's goal with 32 seconds left in the first period and Greg Adams' rebound early in the second rebuilt Washington's two-goal margin. But Doug Wilson scored off a faceoff before Ludzik tied it again.
Not long before Savard's game-winner, Chicago's Jack O'Callahan thought he had broken the tie, but it was ruled that his shot past Jensen had struck the post at the goalie's right and had not entered the net.
After Yaremchuk skated around Stevens to make it 6-4, Haworth had a great power-play chance and lifted his stick in anticipation, only to have Sauve rob him again.