Bengt Gustafsson was sick today and there was some doubt whether he would be able to play against the Minnesota North Stars.
The Swede gave it a try, however, and his five-point performance carried the Washington Capitals to a 6-3 victory that wiped out the sour taste of Friday's 7-5 home-ice loss to the New York Islanders.
Gustafsson scored a shorthanded goal to set a club record of four this season. Among his four assists were two setups for linemate Dave Christian, who took over the team goal-scoring lead with 28.
"I've been sick for about 10 days," said Gustafsson, who twice has been excused from practice with the flu. "I felt pretty decent before the game Friday, but I got worn out and I had nothing left afterwards. I wasn't sure I could play tonight, but I took short, snappy shifts and it worked out all right."
Christian, a Minnesota native, was the target of television camera crews after the game and when they followed him into the dressing room, the Capitals chanted, "Da-vid, Da-vid."
"I had a lot of friends and family here and I expected a little more cheering," Christian said. "Maybe they wanted to stay alive."
The crowd of 13,575 was restless while it watched the North Stars lose their fourth straight game. There were boos for the Minnesota power play, which finished a sluggish one for eight, and goaltender Jon Casey, the hero of the North Stars' victory over Washington two weeks ago, was jeered as the Capitals built a 6-1 lead before relaxing a bit.
Christian scored the only goal of the first period, beating Casey from the slot after a pass from Gustafsson. The principal event of the period, however, was the Capitals surviving a two-man Minnesota advantage that lasted 63 seconds. It was the first time in four such deficits this season Washington escaped unscathed; the Capitals have converted two of 12 such chances themselves.
Al Jensen made three excellent saves during the two-man shortage and Gustafsson, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens defended well.
"You can't keep them from shooting in that situation, but we kept them outside and Jenny played excellent," Gustafsson said. "It gave us a lift. After that it was, 'Let's go, guys.' "
Gustafsson's shorthanded goal really hurt Minnesota early in the second period, after the Capitals were penalized for too many men on the ice when Darren Veitch stepped out and handled the puck before Larry Murphy reached the bench.
Christian harassed Neal Broten, who lost the puck inside the Washington blueline. Murphy sent it ahead, setting up Gustafsson and Christian for a two-man break against Casey. They passed Casey dizzy, leaving Gustafsson with an empty-net shot that erased the Capitals' season shorthanded goal record of three held by current North Star Dennis Maruk.
Veitch's second goal of the season made it 3-0. With each team a man short, Gustafsson lured three North Stars his way and passed to Veitch, open in the right-wing circle. He beat Casey high, after the goalie had stopped a low shot in a similar situation moments earlier.
Tom McCarthy deflected Broten's drive past Jensen with Minnesota enjoying a four-on-three skating advantage late in the period, but Washington put the game away with three straight goals in the third period.
Gustafsson intercepted Scott Bjugstad's pass in the Minnesota end and fed Christian for a backhander from the slot. Then Mark Taylor, summoned from Binghamton of the American Hockey League to replace injured Jorgen Pettersson, took a pass from Langway and fired a shot off Casey's stick, with Gustafsson also assisting. Finally, Greg Adams tapped the puck over the line after Craig Laughlin had shoved it behind Casey into the crease.
Brian Lawton and Dino Ciccarelli scored for Minnesota in the last seven minutes.
"I hated to see them get those last two, but we played very well tonight," Coach Bryan Murray said. "They didn't get many chances and our penalty killing was very aggressive. It's nice to bounce back."