For the third straight game, the Washington Capitals blew a two-goal lead on home ice. For the third straight time, they bounced back to win and the prize for last night's 6-3 victory over Boston was first place in the Patrick Division.
Bengt Gustafsson and Bob Gould scored 12 seconds apart late in the third period and Craig Laughlin added an insurance goal as Washington prevailed at the expense of its old teammate, goaltender Pat Riggin.
The Capitals' 13th victory in 15 games moved them one point ahead of Philadelphia. Each team has six games left, including a closing day (April 6) confrontation in the Spectrum.
Gustafsson's power-play goal, on a rebound of his own breakaway shot, gave him the last word in a rather strange battle with Riggin and it left Riggin-baiters in the crowd of 15,888 waving their American flags and chanting "Rig-gin, Rig-gin" at the Canadian goalie who made widely publicized anti-U.S. comments a year ago.
Gustafsson and Riggin became embroiled in the second period, after Riggin made a close-up stop on the Swede. Riggin shoved his goalie stick in Gustafsson's face and, after dropping the stick, tried to punch Gustafsson, who pushed him away. Both were penalized for slashing.
"The whistle came and he put his stick under my face mask," Gustafsson said. "I said, 'What are you trying to do?' and he tried to punch me. I don't know why he was mad at me. I was probably the only guy who didn't shoot high on him in practice when he was here."
Gustafsson did put his game-winner high in the net, however, and he said, "I knew Riggin was on his butt when he stopped the first one and I just tried to get it up. The main thing was we won, not who was in the net."
Of the incident with Gustafsson, Riggin said, "I was just playing hockey. It's part of the game. I have nothing against Gus."
Of the night as a whole, with the Bruins outshot, 36-20, Riggin said, "There's pressure every night. You just want to go out and do your best. I gave up six goals, but I think I played pretty well. I made some saves."
Washington Coach Bryan Murray agreed, saying, "Pat Riggin made some quality stops to keep them in it. We could have had four or five more."
Murray was asked whether the Capitals were deliberately bumping Riggin to upset him and he said, smiling, "Were we playing close to the goaltender? The thing we've started to do much better is go to the net. The guys know if you shoot the puck up and talk to him, you can get Pat upset.
"In the locker room today, somebody yelled, 'Don't shoot the puck up,' and everybody laughed."
Al Jensen, more or less the forgotten man in this emotional battle, had his moments in the other net, particularly during a Washington power play early in the third period, with the score tied at 3.
Jensen, whose seventh straight triumph matched Riggin's club record of 28 in a season, foiled a shorthanded breakaway by Dwight Foster and caught a blast by Barry Pederson after moving out to challenge the shooter. Later, with 6:44 remaining in regulation time, Jensen stopped a breakaway by Steve Kasper and kept the puck outside the goal line when Boston's Mike Milbury banged into him, shoving his legs into the net.
"They did get a couple of shots, but the guys were great and skated hard and I ought to be able to stop four shots in a period," Jensen said.
"I knew Pat would be up for the game and play well, but it was such a big game for us and them that I just concentrated on winning the hockey game. I realized he was down there, but I tried to blank the rest of it out."
Alan Haworth, who had missed the previous six games because of a fractured ulna bone near the right wrist, was the man who started the Capitals toward the tie-breaking score. His superb headman pass to Mike Gartner left defender Gord Kluzak with no option but to hook Gartner down.
On the power play that followed, Scott Stevens set up Dave Christian at the right post, but Riggin made an excellent sliding save. Stevens persisted, however, and his long pass sent Gustafsson in alone, to net the rebound for the winner.
"We were on the power play and I turned and saw Gus," Stevens said. "I tried to lay it up in the air and give him time to get there. He had to stretch, but he got it all right. There aren't many guys who can pick up a pass like Gus."
Before the Bruins could absorb the sudden turn of events, Gaetan Duchesne deflected a pass by Boston's Michael Thelven and the puck caromed to Gould in front for another score.
Laughlin wrapped it up off a Murphy setup, as Washington outshot the Bruins by 15-4 in the final 20 minutes. In winning, the Capitals matched club records of 101 points and 48 victories.
Dave Pasin had sent the Bruins in front on the game's first shot at 1:23. It was the 11th goal against the Capitals in the first two minutes of a game this season.
Haworth tied it on Washington's second shot, converting a Jorgen Pettersson pass for his 32nd goal.
Christian's 39th, his sixth in five games, broke the tie on a power play early in the second period. Then Lou Franceschetti's first goal in 19 games made it 3-1, as he dove at a loose puck and shoved it off the right post and over the line.
"I just slapped it toward Patty and it rolled an inch over the goal line," said Franceschetti, who also dished out some resounding checks and was chosen No. 1 star.
Twenty-two seconds later, Keith Crowder cut the gap in half. Only 86 seconds after that, Kluzak deflected Reed Larson's power-play drive to tie it and set the stage for the third-period drama.