The Washington Capitals didn't play all that well, as team captain Rod Langway put it, but they did finally win and they did gain ground on the Philadelphia Flyers, who will be in sold-out Capital Centre Saturday night.
After a slow start -- "a terrible first period from our standpoint," said Coach Bryan Murray -- the Capitals came from two goals down to defeat the New Jersey Devils, 4-3, tonight in front of 10,875 at the Meadowlands Arena, ending a three-game losing streak.
"Our guys were feeling the pressure coming in," Murray said. "If we had lost, there would have been a lot more pressure to get a win (against the Flyers), and it would have been more pressure than you need for a midseason game."
Gaetan Duchesne scored the winning goal with 1:25 left in the third period after the Devils had tied it at 3-3.
"When you win in the last minute and a half, it gives great vibes for the future," Murray said.
"This was a big win," said goalie Pete Peeters, who stopped 23 shots. "And it could be the turning point of the season if we get a big win tomorrow."
Peeters kept the Capitals in the game in the first period, when there was little Washington offense to speak of. New Jersey outshot Washington, 11-4, in the period.
New Jersey's Greg Adams scored his 19th goal of the year at 11:58 for a 1-0 lead. Adams took the puck near center ice with just Peter Andersson between him and Peeters, and the Devils' Tim Higgins hustled to make it a two-on-one break. Along the boards on the right, Adams fed Higgins high in the slot, which drew Andersson to the middle. Higgins went back to Adams, who beat Peeters high and to the short side over Peeters' glove.
The Capitals got an earful from Murray after the period.
"There was lots of discussion, especially after the first period," said Murray. "I was concerned. It looked as if we were going to play in the beginning, but then there was nothing. No intensity, no puck movement. Fortunately, we were much better in the second period."
New Jersey's Pat Verbeek made it 2-0 with just 31 seconds gone in the second period. Kirk Muller carried the puck into the Capitals' blueline and then across the top of the slot, leaving a nice drop pass for Doug Sulliman, whose low slap shot beat Peeters.
The Capitals recovered, though, and began pressuring Devils goalie Craig Billington instead of themselves.
Defenseman Scott Stevens took the puck from Ludvig in the Washington zone and carried the puck to the Devils' blueline, drew two defenders, and flipped a nice pass to Alan Haworth on the right wing. Haworth deked Billington with a head fake and put a backhand shot in the empty side of the net to cut the Devils' lead to 2-1 with 6:20 to go in the period.
The Capitals tied it at 2-2 with 2:27 left in the period. Bob Carpenter was battling for the puck behind the Devils' goal. Gartner scooped up the loose puck, came around the left side of the net and fired a wrist shot to score.
The Capitals took the lead at 3-2 on Lou Franceschetti's fourth goal of the season with 6:45 gone in the third period. Gartner, carrying the puck into the Devils' zone on a two-on-one break, fed Franceschetti on the right wing. Franceschetti's backhand shot hit part of Billington's pads, but it carried into the net.
The Devils weren't done, though. Craig Wolanin scored with an assist from Mel Bridgman to make it 3-3 with 7:35 left.
It looked like overtime until Dave Christian fed Duchesne with a nice pass right in front of Billington.
In other NHL games, the New York Islanders ended the Flyers' four-game winning streak as Bryan Trottier scored with one second left for a 4-3 win in Philadelphia; in Buffalo, Coach Scotty Bowman's return was a successful one as the Sabres beat Montreal, 5-4; Ron Francis had two goals to lead Hartford over visiting Quebec, 11-6; Dale Hawerchuk's 32nd goal helped Winnipeg, at home, beat Chicago, 5-1; Los Angeles won at Vancouver, 9-7.