What a difference a building makes. The Washington Capitals, who have scored one goal in three games at Philadelphia's Spectrum this season, knocked in six times as many at Capital Centre yesterday and beat the Flyers, 6-5, to get their second wind in the fight for the Patrick Division championship.
Bob Gould produced the game-winner early in the third period and reliever Al Jensen made the key saves down the stretch as the Capitals moved within one point of the first-place Flyers. Washington has an extra game remaining. Philadelphia will be the host for the teams' final matchup on April 6.
"It's the biggest goal I can remember scoring -- certainly the biggest of the year," Gould said. "The win makes a big, big difference. Losing to them here would have played on our minds. We know we have a tough time beating them there, and losing to them here would have made things really tough."
What would have made a loss extra tough was the fact that the Flyers erased a 5-3 Washington lead. Brian Propp converted Dave Poulin's setup on the first shot at Jensen to tie it 97 seconds into the third period.
Jensen, by his own admission, came out too soon and played the shot poorly. But he quickly redeemed himself by withstanding a Philadelphia flurry.
Craig Laughlin finally cleared the zone, and his pass sent Gould down the left wing. Gould took what seemed like a harmless backhander, but it struck the post at the right of Chico Resch, then caromed off the back of the goalie's leg and wound up in the net, 77 seconds after Propp's goal.
"It was kind of a fluky goal," Gould said. "It hit the post, came out and hit the back of his leg. I heard it hit the post, but it wasn't a hard shot and you probably couldn't hear it up in the stands.
"I think coming back so soon after they tied it took a little bit out of them.
"They did the same thing to us after we got up, 5-3, scoring on the next shift, and that's something you never want to happen."
"To come back that quickly allowed us to get back to our strategy for the third period," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray.
"Today I thought we proved we could win a big game, which some people in the media have claimed we haven't done in the past."
Both starting goalies watched the third period from the bench. Pete Peeters gave way to Jensen at the start of the third period, after yielding four goals in 12 shots, when a slight groin pull made him uncomfortable.
Flyers starter Bob Froese, who had yielded only one goal in two previous games against Washington this season, was replaced by Resch at 4:41 of the second period, after Dave Christian's 38th goal gave Washington a 4-3 lead.
That may have seemed like strange treatment for a goaltender with the best goals-against average (now 2.58) in the NHL, but apparently Flyers Coach Mike Keenan had seen enough. Froese went down as Christian sent the puck up, slammed the puck along the ice and crunched his stick in disgust.
"I was upset at myself," Froese said. "I should have stood up and challenged. It was a bad goal."
There were bad goals and good goals in this atypical shootout between the two best defensive teams in the NHL.
One of the beauties, at least for the Flyers fans in the sellout crowd of 18,130, came after only 98 seconds of play. Passing right off the chalk board by Rich Sutter and Rick Tocchet left Ron Sutter open for an easy goal.
Since the team that scored first had led to the finish of all five previous meetings this season, with the Flyers winning four, that goal seemed important. However, three minutes later, Washington was ahead, 2-1.
Bob Carpenter, using the Flyers' Brad Marsh as a screen, sent a 50-footer over Froese's left shoulder to tie it. Then Mike Gartner broke down the middle and drew both defenders, Mark Howe and Dave Richter, toward him. The puck wound up on Gaetan Duchesne's stick for an open backhander.
Two goals by Tim Kerr -- his first against Washington this season after 12 in seven games a year ago -- put the Flyers in front before the first period ended. Kerr's 51st goal of the season came on a power play, on which his shot hit the left post, hugged the goal line to the right post, caromed off Peeters' stick and slid a couple of inches over the line. It was Kerr's 32nd power-play goal, adding to his NHL record.
No. 52 was set up on a marvelous play by Propp, who started to circle the net, then stopped and whipped a backhand pass out to Kerr near the left post for a short-side score.
Scott Stevens tied it at 3-3 early in the second period on a goal about as strange as Kerr's first. Stevens skated behind the Philadelphia net, regained the puck after losing it to Peter Zezel and tried unsuccessfully to jam it betwen Froese's pads. But after Froese made the initial save, Stevens seemingly knocked both goalie and puck into the net.
"I tried to pass out first, but it went off Zezel's stick," Stevens said. "I got it back and jammed it, but Froese made the first save. I kept banging, and I pushed him and the puck at the same time."
Christian's goal chased Froese, and Resch made some good stops before Laughlin's 25th boosted Washington's lead to 5-3. Bengt Gustafsson was the brilliant playmaker this time, threading the puck between Brad McCrimmon's skates to Laughlin for a tap-in at 11:30.
Eleven seconds later, Ilkka Sinisalo took a pass from Murray Craven and beat Peeters with a backhander to close within 5-4.
Philadelphia seemed to get an added advantage when Peeters dove out to make a sensational save on Poulin, just before the second period ended, and felt the twinge in the groin that sent him to the bench. In the end, Jensen had the last word -- at least for this week.