Mike Gartner scored twice and Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller added insurance goals six seconds apart last night as the Washington Capitals ended a four-game losing streak with a 4-1 victory over the Minnesota North Stars at Capital Centre.
Goaltender Pete Peeters stopped 22 shots in a solid effort as a crowd of 17,855 welcomed the struggling Capitals home.
It was a struggle after 25 minutes, with Minnesota ahead by 1-0, but Gartner turned things around and kept the visitors winless here over eight games and more than five years.
The two goals gave Gartner three in two games after he had managed only one in the previous 11.
"That's the first time we have played for 60 straight minutes all season long," Gartner said. "That's a sad commentary, but I think it's the truth. Some games we've played well for two periods, but not three the way we did tonight."
Although outshooting the North Stars by 13-7 in the first period, the Capitals could not break through goaltender Don Beaupre. The one time they appeared to score, when Greg Adams stuffed the puck from behind, referee Dave Newell ruled that it had not completely crossed the line.
Then, with Larry Murphy off for hooking early in the second period, Dino Ciccarelli's 10th goal sent Minnesota into the lead.
Gartner quickly got it back with a snap shot over Beaupre's left shoulder from the right-wing circle. But with Ciccarelli in the penalty box, Ridley was unable to convert Larry Murphy's goal-mouth feed and Miller missed the net on a setup by Bengt Gustafsson.
So it was still 1-1 and anybody's game entering the third period, despite Washington's territorial advantage.
"To play at the level we played and still be in a 1-1 game going into the third period was a little scary," said Coach Bryan Murray. "That second goal gave everyone a lift. I felt a sense of relief, because I didn't think they'd get it back."
Minnesota's Doug Roberts was in the box on a holdover penalty from the second period when Gartner broke the tie. Ridley, from the left-wing boards, made a perfect goal-mouth pass to Gartner for a tap-in.
The biggest scare the rest of the way came when Miller, trying to get around Beaupre and shoot, tripped over the goalie and crashed heavily into the boards. Newell was concerned sufficiently to stop play immediately, although Washington was threatening to score.
"I was flying so quick, I didn't realize what was going on," Miller said. "I ran out of room. I wasn't sure if I was okay or not. I was knocked out and I had a really bad headache. After that it was a whole new game. I had a new perspective."
The North Stars hardly threatened when Gustafsson was chased for holding, but when Minnesota's Frantisek Musil drew a cross-checking penalty, Washington's power play clicked for the second time.
Beaupre blocked a shot by Scott Stevens, but Dale Hunter pounced on the rebound and poked it behind him to Ridley for a 3-1 lead.
"I slid across and somehow it got through my legs," Beaupre said. "That goal was tough. We gave them too many power-play chances."
Ridley scored at 13:14 and, six seconds later, it was 4-1. Gustafsson won the faceoff from Brian Lawton and shoved the puck to Miller near the left-wing boards. Miller carried it all the way in and beat Beaupre for the clincher.
"Gussie made a great play," Miller said. "He drew both defensemen to him and I was breaking behind the defense, going hard for the net. He gave me the puck and I was able to score.
"That was one of the things we talked about this morning after practice. Bryan told all the lines and defensive pairs to sit down for a few minutes and talk about what they were going to do. I think it really helped us."
The Capitals turned in a superb defensive effort despite the fact that the four principal checkers -- Miller, Ridley, Bob Gould and Peter Sundstrom -- were scattered on four different lines.
"Our team is back to playing the way we can play," Gartner said. "Everybody is playing very strong defense. We're trying to win defensively, getting enough offensive opportunities to win the hockey game."
Afterward, Adams insisted that his stuff from behind had crossed the goal line in the first period. Goal judge Roger Reinke flashed the red light, but after a phone conversation between Newell and Reinke, the goal was washed out. Minnesota 0 1 0 1 Washington 0 1 3 4
FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- None. PENALTIES -- Hartsburg, Min (roughing), 1:16; Hunter, Was (roughing), 1:16; Musil, Min (hooking), 3:50; Acton, Min (hooking), 6:20; Hunter, Was (roughing), 14:19; Adams, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:49.
SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Minnesota, Ciccarelli 10 (Archibald, MacLellan), 2:04 (pp). 2, Washington, Gartner 10 (Murphy, Stevens), 5:41. PENALTIES -- Murphy, Was (hooking), :26; Payne, Min (roughing), 4:41; Franceschetti, Was (roughing), 4:41; Lawton, Min (holding), 7:02; Christian, Was (high-sticking), 7:49; Brooke, Min (high-sticking), 7:49; MacLellan, Min (high-sticking), 12:24; Berger, Min, misconduct, 12:24; Hunter, Was (high-sticking), 12:24; Ciccarelli, Min (hooking), 15:54; Roberts, Min (holding), 19:49.
THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 3, Washington, Gartner 11 (Ridley, Stevens), 1:19 (pp). 4, Washington, Ridley 6 (Hunter, Stevens), 13:14 (pp). 5, Washington, Miller 3 (Gustafsson), 13:20. PENALTIES -- Gustafsson, Was (holding), 7:46; Musil, Min (cross-checking), 12:30; Gartner, Was (hooking), 18:54.
Shots on goal: Minnesota 7 11 5 23 Washington 13 11 9 33
Power-play opportunities -- Minnesota 1 of 5; Washington 2 of 6.
Goalies -- Minnesota, Beaupre (33 shots-29 saves). Washington, Peeters (23-22).
A -- 17,855.
Referee -- Dave Newell. Linesmen -- Kevin Collins, Pat Dapuzzo.