Kevin Hatcher scored two goals and Dale Hunter collected three assists last night as the Washington Capitals ended the Boston Bruins' seven-game winning streak, 4-1.
A Capital Centre crowd of 15,844 appeared to get as much pleasure from Scott Stevens' first fight of the season, a humdinger with Boston heavyweight Jay Miller in the third period, as it did in the success of a Washington club that was roundly booed in its last home appearance.
There was a low point for the Capitals. Defenseman Rod Langway, troubled by back spasms, departed with seven minutes left in the first period. He was resting comfortably in the trainers' room after the game, but was scheduled for precautionary X-rays today.
"That was disappointing, losing an all-star defenseman like Rod," Hatcher said. "Anytime that happens, the other five have to pick up their socks. I tried to keep my shifts short, because a long one could ruin you for the rest of the game. But I was still pretty tired out there."
The building was hot and the ice, newly made when the Capitals returned from a road trip, was covered with pools of water. There was another shortcoming, too, one that is becoming familiar to fans at the Centre.
The clock malfunctioned most of the night and that created considerable confusion, especially when penalties were being served. There are no penalty clocks at the Centre and the usual tiny numbers were absent from Telscreen, creating what one off-ice official called "a nightmare."
Despite the less than ideal conditions, the Capitals reached the .500 mark with the kind of workmanlike effort that has often been missing in this seesaw season.
"We hadn't been forechecking aggressively the way we did tonight," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We took the body and played very strong in that area."
It was determined forechecking by Greg Adams and Hunter that set up Hatcher's first goal just 107 seconds into the game. Hatcher fired three times from the right point, with one blocked by goalie Reggie Lemelin and another by the Boston defense before the third try found the net. Adams, skating out from behind, whacked Lemelin in the skate to distract him just as the puck arrived.
"Getting the first goal, especially in your own building, helps right off the bat like that, because then the fans aren't going to start booing," Hatcher said. "The puck kept coming out and Dale and Greg were all over their D. I'm a defenseman and I know you just try to get it out in that situation, but our guys wouldn't let them."
Ken Linseman tied it up on Boston's third shot, beating Clint Malarchuk from the left-wing circle after a fine pass from Geoff Courtnall. But that was it for the Bruins, as Malarchuk stopped their remaining 19 shots.
Mike Ridley's seventh power-play goal sent Washington ahead to stay before the first period ended. With Boston's Bob Sweeney off for holding, Hatcher dropped the puck for Ridley in the right-wing circle and Ridley lined a shot over Lemelin's right skate into the far side of the net.
The Capitals had some good chances in the second period, but it was still a cliffhanger until Adams' first goal in 12 games boosted the margin to 3-1 at 14:25. Hunter pried the puck from a pack along the boards behind the Boston net, skated into the left-wing circle and shoved it a few feet to Adams, who lined it off Lemelin's pad into the net.
"A goal like that helps," Adams said. "It kind of gives you a boost when you need it. We'd been taking it to them, but there were no rewards. When you get one, it gets you flying again."
Washington's Mike Gartner, who had only one shot on goal in the first two periods, broke in for a good chance early in the third, but just got a piece of the puck and it rolled inches wide of the post.
Malarchuk came up big in the period, foiling breakaways by Steve Kasper and Sweeney. Gord Kluzak fired wide after walking in on another occasion.
Then Hatcher put it away with 7:29 remaining, on the first power play granted either team in more than 25 minutes. Linseman was off for tripping when Hatcher took Hunter's feed from the side boards and beat Lemelin with a 40-footer down the middle.
Coincidentally, the clock kept running after the score.
The fans who stayed beyond that point were treated to a dandy fight, as Stevens shrugged off Miller's initial attack and, despite the fact his right hand had been struck by a puck in the first period, landed a tattoo on the head of the Boston bully.
"I didn't want to fight, but he jumped me and grabbed me in a headlock," Stevens said. "I haven't missed the fighting, but it's nice to keep on your toes. If I have the odd fight and keep them guessing, it doesn't hurt. And it was a good time, when we were up 4-1.
"But I'd rather stay on the ice. I can still play tough. If you spend a lot of time in the penalty box, you don't learn much and you don't help the team."
The clock situation, an ongoing problem here since the building opened in 1974, reached farcical proportions. The clock showed 30 seconds left in the first period when Marv Brooks, the public address announcer, counted down the last five seconds to the buzzer. Referee Denis Morel ordered the scoreboard shut down after that, but there was confusion during some overlapping second-period penalties and Boston's Reed Larson returned to the ice eight seconds early.
"A big building like this, they should be prepared for these things," Morel said. "They should check out the clock. It's not as if it hadn't happened before.
"It's hard for the linesmen. They go by the clock to determine icing when a penalty is ending. We're just lucky the game was clean. If there'd been a lot of penalties, it would have been very difficult."
Boston Coach Terry O'Reilly refused to use the clock as an alibi, saying, "It had nothing to do with the game. They drop the puck and you play till you hear the whistle."