Dave Christian ended an 11-game drought with two goals tonight and the Washington Capitals crept back within a point of the Patrick Division lead by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3.
The Capitals can move past the Philadelphia Flyers for the third time in 10 days Tuesday night, when they trade their game in hand for a Capital Centre contest against Los Angeles.
Christian, shut out since Feb. 22, may have transferred his curse to Mario Lemieux. Largely through the efforts of Bengt Gustafsson, the Pittsburgh superstar was held without a point, ending his 28-game scoring streak.
The Penguins' playoff hopes are fast disappearing, too. They are winless in their last seven games, trail the fourth-place New York Rangers by a point and have only three home games remaining.
Seven of the eight goals were scored within 11 minutes 24 seconds of the second period. The clincher, by Larry Murphy, came with 4:02 remaining in the game, after the Capitals had limited Pittsburgh to three harmless shots over the first 16 minutes of the final period.
"We didn't give them a chance up to that point," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Maybe one or two plays around the net, but nothing good at all. It's pretty nice to see our guys play at that level with the game on the line."
Lemieux, who has just one goal in six games against Washington this season, was limited to two shots on Washington goalie Al Jensen.
Jensen, boosting his career mark against the Penguins to 11-1, made a superb save in the first period as Craig Simpson gave Lemieux a goal-mouth pass.
In the second period, Lemieux split the Washington defense and shot a backhander off the right post. Late in the game, he intercepted a pass by Kevin Hatcher and lined one at Jensen, who alertly made the stop. Otherwise, it was a long and difficult night for No. 66.
Lemieux several times waved his stick in the direction of Gustafsson, a marvelous defensive player who has given the same shutdown treatment to Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky on occasion.
"I just try to stay between him and the puck," Gustafsson said. "The big thing is to make sure he doesn't get the puck. It gets him frustrated and takes him away from his game."
Christian has been frustrated, too, but after Pittsburgh's Dave Hannan ended the scoreless tie at 1:16 of the second period, Christian took command. He tied the score 22 seconds later, put Washington ahead to stay at 5:48 and fired six shots at goalie Roberto Romano during the period.
"Everybody has been giving me advice," Christian said. "I guess I ought to give credit to former Capital Bryan Watson. He called today to tell me to keep shooting, that he'd had slumps, too, except that his would last a year."
Gaetan Duchesne set up Christian's first goal by lifting the puck from Rod Buskas at the Pittsburgh blueline and feeding Christian in front.
"Gaet gave me a nice pass and I just shot the puck without thinking," Christian said. "Maybe that's been part of the problem -- I've been thinking too much."
Christian's second goal of the game and 35th of the season came on a power play, after Romano was penalized for deliberately flipping the puck into the stands. Murphy made a superb stop of an attempted clear inside the blueline and banged the puck into the slot, where Christian was completely open.
"Larry made a good play to knock it in and I was coming out from behind the net," Christian said. "It came right to me and I put it in. I knew they'd come, but I was getting tired of waiting for them."
Twelve seconds after Christian's second goal, Bob Carpenter crossed the blueline, looked as if he would pass to Mike Gartner and instead beat Romano with a short-side blast from the top of the left-wing circle.
The two goalies exchanged gifts as the score continued to mount. Moe Mantha scored with a drive from a difficult angle along the right-wing boards, as Jensen failed to cover the post properly.
Then Craig Laughlin unloaded two steps outside the blueline and left Romano waving his glove in anguish as the puck sailed past him.
"I was going top shelf and I really blasted it," Laughlin said. "Maybe now the critics will give my shot some respect."
Ron Duguay brought the Penguins within 4-3 after Doug Bodger tripped Washington's Greg Smith without a penalty call as Smith tried to carry the puck out of the corner at Jensen's right. Duguay picked it up and beat Jensen with a 35-footer, leaving the Capitals screaming at referee Bryan Lewis.
Things were tense for the two teams and the 15,259 fans until Jorgen Pettersson dug out the puck behind the Pittsburgh net and tried to center it to Carpenter, who was flattened. The puck rolled on to Murphy, who beat Romano high on the glove side.
"It was a knuckle ball and maybe the goalie was anticipating that Mike Gartner would deflect it," Murphy said. "It was a good feeling. When you're up by one and you get the second, it gives you some breathing room. When I'm on the bench in that situation, I can hear the sighs." Nordiques 8, Canadiens 6
Michel Goulet had four goals and two assists to lead Quebec back from a 3-0 deficit in Montreal. Quebec is three points ahead of second-place Montreal in the Adams Division. Maple Leafs 7, Kings 6
In Toronto, Czechoslovakian linemates Miroslav Frycer and Peter Ihnacak picked up three points apiece and center Tom Fergus scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season in the victory over Los Angeles. North Stars 6, Blues 5
In Bloomington, Minn., Dino Ciccarelli completed a hat trick during a power play with 25 seconds left in overtime to give Minnesota a one-point lead over St. Louis for second place in the Norris Division.