The Washington Capitals got a lucky bounce for the winning goal last night, followed by a lucky whistle that kept the Chicago Blackhawks from catching up.
The Capitals' 2-1 triumph at Capital Centre extended the Hawks' losing streak to eight games, their longest in 10 years. But it hardly was convincing, in large part because of a spectacular 30-save effort by Chicago goalie Darren Pang, at 5 feet 5 the smallest man in the NHL.
Mike Gartner, foiled twice by Pang on clean breakaways, produced the winner on a power play just 25 seconds into the second period. Gartner's centering pass from behind the goalline struck Chicago defenseman Gary Nylund and bounced into the net. It was Gartner's 17th goal.
Pang made a rare mistake on the play. Garry Galley dumped the puck off the rear boards and it caromed past the stretching Gartner toward the right post. Pang, trying to clear it back to the boards, put it right on Gartner's stick.
"I just tried to center the puck to anybody who was there," Gartner said. "That's something, to be stopped on two breakaways and then get one from behind the net. It shows that it works out in the long run. I hit a couple of posts the last game."
Pang said, "That was such a harmless play. But I pushed it right back into his stick, which wasn't the best move, and he hit it off Gary's leg. It went between the post and my leg, but I never saw it. I had to ask Gary what happened."
Although more than 39 minutes remained, only one more puck crossed the goalline and that occurred just 52 seconds later.
Washington goalie Pete Peeters, making his first appearance in two weeks, blocked a shot by Denis Savard. The puck rebounded a few feet in front and when Larry Murphy tried to steer the puck into Peeters' pads to stop the play, it slid into the net. Fortunately for the Capitals, referee Dave Newell had blown his whistle to stop play, thinking Peeters had covered the puck.
"I was on one side of the net and the puck came from the other side," Newell said. "I was sure the puck was frozen on the other side. I even hesitated, but I couldn't see it, so I blew the whistle. Sure enough, as soon as I blew it, it squirted out."
Murphy said, "I put it into his pad and it slid under. But the whistle blew a long time before the puck was in the net, so I wasn't worrying about it."
The Hawks complained at the time, although not as strenuously as they might have, had they known there would be no further scoring.
"We scored two goals, but the referee had a quick whistle," said Chicago Coach Bob Murdoch. "It should have been an overtime game. Our guys put in a good effort and this is the first time all week we were in the game. But the bottom line is we lost. It doesn't matter what the score was."
Chicago fired 10 shots at Peeters in the second period, but only five in the third. The Hawks' best opportunity down the stretch came when Rick Vaive was left open in the right-wing circle with three minutes left, but he fired inches wide of the far post.
Peeters' best stop came as Steve Larmer stepped out from behind the Washington net and tried to stuff the puck home.
With one second left in the second period, Peeters was penalized for tripping Steve Ludzik. During the power play that started the third period, Peeters blocked a drive by Rik Wilson and managed to sweep the rebound clear of the swarming Blackhawks.
A Washington power play almost backfired, with Mackey off for tripping. Savard chipped the puck behind Hatcher. With Hatcher hooking him from behind, Savard got off a half-volley that was handled by Peeters.
Pang also goofed near the finish. With a minute left, he played the puck on what would have been an icing call against the Capitals. As a result, the Hawks never again were able to control the puck in the Washington end.
The Capitals scored first, Kevin Hatcher recording his third goal in two games on a rebound at 8:35 of the first period, after Pang had blocked two shots by Gartner without his injury-riddled defense clearing the puck.
"I thought it caromed off my skate and I looked behind me," Pang said. "I had no idea the puck was still out front. It was an easy goal for Hatcher."
Savard tied it on a short-handed goal less than four minutes later. He skated across the Washington blueline on the left wing, made a clever move around Hatcher to the slot and fired the puck between Peeters' pads.
It was the 15th goal for Savard and the fourth short-handed score given up by the Capitals in eight games.
The game ended on an unpleasant note when Vaive slashed Bengt Gustafsson across the chest. Gustafsson crumpled to the ice and Scott Stevens raced at Vaive, stick high. Vaive's face was bloodied, but Gustafsson arose and skated off with only a welt as a reminder of the incident.
"He got me pretty good, but we won and that's the main thing," Gustafsson said.