Bengt Gustafsson's goal at 3:42 of sudden-death overtime carried the Washington Capitals to a 5-4 victory over the Edmonton Oilers last night and completed a three-game sweep of the season series against the Stanley Cup champions.
"It was a great hockey game and a great confidence-booster," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray, whose team never trailed. "They came in here knowing we'd won the first two, and our guys stepped forward and won anyway. It's just too bad we can't count these three if we meet in the Stanley Cup final."
The fourth straight Capital Centre sellout of 18,130 saw Washington extend its winning streak to four games while ending Edmonton's unbeaten string at seven.
Washington has not been defeated in its last 20 overtime games over two years; this was the Oilers' first sudden-death loss in 18 regular-season overtime periods.
Larry Murphy started the winning play when he carried the puck around the Edmonton net and set up Dave Christian for a close-range shot. The puck struck the post at the left of goalie Andy Moog, then lay on the goal line until Gustafsson shoved it across.
"Larry got the puck and skated around the net and passed to David for an open shot," said Gustafsson, who also skated Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky to a standstill. "It went off the post and got behind the goalie and was just laying there. I was late coming in as the fourth man, and I was just looking for a rebound. The puck was there, and I poked it in."
"It's nice to know you can beat the best team in the league," Gustafsson said. "Hopefully, it will mean something if we meet them in the Stanley Cup final. We have a long way to go before we can worry about that."
The Capitals trail the first-place Flyers by five points in the Patrick Division and have one game in hand.
The Capitals took early leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before the Oilers came storming back to tie the game on second-period goals by Raimo Summanen and Paul Coffey.
Then, with Washington's Scott Stevens in the penalty box, Bob Gould intercepted a pass by Charlie Huddy in the Edmonton end and drilled a 40-footer past Moog, waist high on the stick side. It was the Capitals' 13th short-handed goal and Gould's third.
"You try to anticipate a pass like that," Gould said. "If he doesn't pass it there, I circle and pick up my man. But he did, right onto my stick. I shot it as hard as I've ever shot a puck in my life."
Outshot by 30-15 over the first two periods, the Oilers stoked up the fire in the third. They peppered Pete Peeters with 18 shots, but only one got by.
That was at 8:24, as Jari Kurri became the first 40-goal scorer in the NHL this season. Kevin Lowe shot from the blueline, and the puck struck Washington's Craig Laughlin in the leg. It was headed toward the corner, but Dave Hunter reached out and corralled it, then slid it to Gretzky in the slot. He passed it off to Kurri for what looked like an easy score, but Peeters almost got it with a desperate lunge.
Down the stretch, the Capitals survived a penalty for too many men and almost won the game with 1:38 left in regulation. Moog went out to stop Gould, then made another good save on Bob Carpenter. He had no chance when Gould grabbed the rebound, but the shot struck the right post.
"I had a good foot to put the puck in and Moog was out of the play," Gould said. "I just didn't put it in. I was mad at myself. It would have been the game-winner, and you don't get many chances like that."
With 38 seconds left, Peeters caught a shot by Kurri and Mike Krushelnyski crashed into him, leaving scrape marks on Peeters' mask.
"He ran me, but there's no point in getting upset," said Peeters, who needed a little attention and a drink of water before resuming play. "He didn't call it, and that's that. You have to keep your cool."
Peeters kept his cool admirably after a couple of weird Edmonton goals.
The first came after Washington had built a 10-1 margin in shots and a 2-0 lead on goals by Carpenter and Greg Adams.
Hunter fired a long shot, on which Peeters directed the puck off to the right with his stick, then faced the slot.
The puck struck the glass and hit the back of Peeters' right ankle, then bounced directly into the net.
"It hit my stick, and I was looking in front of me, figuring it was off to the side," Peeters said.
"It must have hit a rip in the glass, because it came straight back and went off my skate as I came back to the crease. At least, that's what it looked like on TelScreen."
After Jorgen Pettersson made it 3-1, Summanen slipped behind defenseman Kevin Hatcher and converted Kevin McClelland's pass to close within a goal.
On an Edmonton power play, Peeters played the puck in the right-wing corner and tried to loft it out of the zone. Instead, he put it right on the stick of Coffey, whose 29th goal was counted before Peeters could return to the net.
"Usually, I hit the clock with my moon shots, but tonight I muffed it," Peeters said. "Maybe I was too aggressive with the puck. I'm just glad I was playing behind such a great hockey team."
Gretzky, closely checked by Gustafsson, put six shots on Peeters but finished without a goal for the sixth straight game. He went through seven goalless games in his first NHL season.
Gretzky had two assists, one a gift from the official scorer on Hunter's carom shot, and now has 147 points.