The New York Islanders wiped out a two-goal deficit today and for a few moments revived memories of previous comebacks that had stunned the Washington Capitals.
A very few moments, indeed. Thirty-five seconds after Mike Bossy's 47th goal evened the score at 2-2, Bob Gould sent the Capitals ahead to stay. Sixteen seconds after that, Darren Veitch scored and Washington was well on its way to a 6-2 victory.
Washington's sixth straight win once again reduced the gap to one point in the race with Philadelphia for the Patrick Division championship, as the Flyers earlier had folded in New Jersey, 7-3.
The Capitals and Islanders will meet again Sunday at 1:35 p.m. at sold-out Capital Centre, and this time it is New York that figures to be psyched out a bit.
"They've done that to us in the past -- we'd get close and then they'd bury us," Gould said. "This was a turnaround. We took it out of them. When you work so hard to get back and then you're two down again before you know what happened, it makes it tough."
Larry Murphy scored two goals today, both on the power play, as Washington's extra-man unit clicked three times in six chances.
"Things were pretty tough on the power play for a while," said Murphy, who has 17 goals. "But this is a game of percentages. Sometimes, you can't score no matter what you do. Other times, they come in bunches."
As far as Bill Smith was concerned, they were coming in bunches today. Smith, a longtime Washington nemesis, yielded five goals in 20 shots before he was replaced by Kelly Hrudey at the start of the third period.
Murphy began Smith's disintegration midway through the first period, after the Islanders' John Tonelli drew the game's first penalty for slashing. Murphy's shot from the right point struck Smith's glove and popped into the net at 11:41. It was Washington's sixth shot on goal. At that point, New York had one.
Scott Stevens hit from the slot to make it 2-0, after taking Gaetan Duchesne's feed out of the right-wing corner and spinning away from two defenders.
The Islanders battled back on Pat LaFontaine's deflection of a Stefan Persson shot, then Bossy scored his 51st goal in 50 regular-season games against Washington.
Greg Adams tried to come out from behind the Washington net and was flattened by Bryan Trottier. The puck dribbled to Bossy, who quickly put it past Pete Peeters.
"We were upset, but we weren't panicking," Gould said. " Assistant coach Ron Lapointe was yelling behind the bench to just get three or four good shifts in a row, to get things going our way and not let them get momentum. That's what we did, with those two quick goals."
Duchesne from behind the net fed Dave Christian in front and Smith made a fine stop on Christian's backhander. But Smith had no chance when Gould darted into the slot and put the rebound into the net.
"It was an open net and you have to go as fast as you can to take advantage of them," Gould said.
The Islanders had not yet digested the sudden twist of events when Veitch picked off a clearing pass along the right-wing boards and sent a shot that caromed into the net off the skate of defenseman Paul Boutilier.
"After they had tied it up, those two quick goals took the wind out of their sails," Veitch said. "It gave us that jump, too. It's nice to win anywhere on the road, but here it's especially nice."
The Islanders had a chance to get back into it when Alan Haworth lost the puck at center ice and Mikko Makela raced in on a breakaway. But Stevens, pursuing from behind, was able to lift Makela's stick as he prepared to shoot and the puck skidded harmlessly into the corner.
"He Makela was pushing the puck in front of him and he was stretched out pretty far, so I figured I'd keep him away with my stick," Peeters said. "But Scott came back and broke it up. That was great backchecking." When Clark Gillies hit Gould in the jaw with a gloved right, the resulting penalty set up another successful Washington power play. Bengt Gustafsson crossed the New York blueline and dropped the puck for Murphy, who fired it by Smith for the fourth goal by a Capitals defenseman.
"Our defensemen were hitting the net consistently," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We had a couple of great shots tonight. It's nice to be doing so many things as consistently as we've been. Our puck movement and looking after our end have been outstanding."
Makela had another breakaway late in the second period, but Peeters stayed with him and the Finn missed the net.
Craig Laughlin, who has had trouble maneuvering on a sore ankle, completed the scoring on a third-period power-play deflection of a drive by Stevens. It was Laughlin's 20th goal, the second time he has reached that figure in the NHL.
The Capitals are likely to be without left wing Jorgen Pettersson for Sunday's rematch. He suffered a bruised left knee when he fell under Peeters after the Islanders' Greg Gilbert crashed into both of them early in the second period and was penalized for interference.
This was only the second defeat in the last 13 home games for the Islanders, the other being Washington's 5-4 triumph here on Feb. 18.
"We're playing really well against them now," Stevens said. "They're getting frustrated, the way we used to get frustrated. But we still owe them. We haven't beaten them enough yet."