ST. LOUIS, JAN. 16 -- The Washington Capitals were a merry group this morning as they fined team captain Rod Langway and several other players who missed the bus to the morning skate.
There was no reason to laugh tonight, however. With goaltender Rick Wamsley blocking 30 shots, the injury-riddled St. Louis Blues handed the Capitals a surprising 3-1 setback.
"They outworked us, for two periods anyway," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We were ready, we scored a goal right away and I guess that was our downfall, because they took the play away. They bumped us and the guys who were supposed to be physical for us just weren't involved."
After Bengt Gustafsson's power-play goal put Washington in front, the Blues surged ahead on goals by Brian Sutter, Cliff Ronning and Perry Turnbull. Then the teams played 39 minutes of scoreless hockey, with the Blues frequently dumping the puck out of danger. In the third period, St. Louis went into such a shell that it shot only twice to the Capitals' 10.
"Until the halfway point of the third period, we were all right," said St. Louis Coach Jacques Martin. "The second half, we gave them some opportunities, but good goaltending prevailed."
Murray had another view: "When we finally rally, we get four semibreaks and either miss the net or shoot the puck into Wamsley. He played well, very solid. That's a trademark when you play the Caps -- your goalie generally looks pretty good."
It was the Blues' first success in their last 11 meetings with the Capitals and the first time they had bested them in nine games here since Jan. 9, 1982.
One of the happiest of the Blues, however, was not one of the veterans who has suffered through so many losses to the Capitals, but defenseman Paul Cavallini, whom the Capitals dealt to St. Louis in December.
"It's a good feeling to beat them and it's a good feeling to win two in a row, coming off a five-game losing streak," he said. "I read about the losing streak to Washington in the paper, but you can't let that get into your mind. We have a lot of key guys hurt -- we're missing two lines, really -- and we had to play the same defensive style, no matter what."
Not only were six forwards hurt but a seventh, Todd Ewen, was suspended for accumulating three game misconduct penalties. So General Manager Ron Caron asked the Canadian Olympic team to return center Cliff Ronning to plug the hole. Naturally, he scored the game winner.
It came at 18:10 of the first period, as Ronning passed off to Michael Dark on the right wing, broke behind defenseman Larry Murphy and retrieved the puck for a tapin after Dark, defenseman Scott Stevens and goalie Clint Malarchuk batted it around near the right post.
"I picked off a pass near the blue line and gave it to Michael Dark as I went past the defenseman," Ronning said. "It was like a two-on-one and I was pretty wide open when I got it back. But I've missed them before.
"I was surprised when they told me to come back here with the Olympics getting closer, but I'm learning to take things as they come. It's pretty exciting to sit around a dressing room with Brian Sutter and Rob Ramage and Mark Hunter and guys like that."
Sutter's tying goal came after Hunter, skating despite a pulled groin, slipped past defenseman Bill Houlder along the right-wing boards. Greg Smith, the other defender, tried to pick up Hunter, which left Sutter open when he took Hunter's pass.
Turnbull's goal came off a faceoff in the Washington end. Rick Meagher of St. Louis outdrew Mike Gartner and Herb Raglan went to the net to screen Malarchuk when Turnbull unloaded.
"There's so much parity in the league that a lot of times the breaks determine the game," Martin said. "Our first goal, it takes a great effort by Mark Hunter to get there. The second goal, Michael Dark makes a good effort to get past the defenseman. The third goal a quick shot off the faceoff goes in. Otherwise, it's a tight checking game. Washington has a good, balanced attack, but it didn't get the breaks."
What might have been decisive breaks were nullified by Wamsley, who had stopped 31 shots when the teams tied, 1-1, at Capital Centre Dec. 20.
In the first period, Mike Ridley's centering pass from behind the goal line hit St. Louis defenseman Robert Nordmark and deflected into the goal mouth. In the second, Murphy's drive hit the stick of the Blues' Bernie Federko and again headed for the net. Wamsley smothered both.
The Capitals, who will end a disappointing (1-3 so far) road trip Sunday in Chicago, slipped into a tie for third place in the Patrick Division, three points behind Philadelphia and two in arrears of the New York Islanders.
The Capitals' record against the scorned Norris Division dipped to 4-4-3.
Bruins 5, Sabres 1:
In Boston, five-year veteran Cam Neely got the third hat trick of his career.
Given extra ice time by Coach Terry O'Reilly to try for his third goal, Neely beat the clock by six seconds.
Islanders 4, Devils 2:
Pat LaFontaine and Mikko Makela's third-period goals moved the Islanders back within a point of the first-place Philadelphia Flyers.
The victory extended the Islanders' home unbeaten streak over the Devils to 11-0-1 since Dec. 11, 1984, when the Devils won their only game at the Nassau Coliseum.
Nordiques 4, Blackhawks 1:
In Quebec, Anton Stastny had a goal and an assist and Peter Stastny had two assists.
Quebec held a 2-1 lead going into the third period, then Stastny and Steven Finn scored less than four minutes apart to put the game away.
Canadiens 4, Rangers 3:
Ryan Walter and Chris Chelios scored 65 seconds apart in the first period in Montreal, extending the Rangers' winless streak to five games.
Penguins 4, Maple Leafs 3:
In Toronto, Mario Lemieux's goal and two assists helped provide the Penguins' first victory this year.
North Stars 4, Red Wings 2:
In Bloomington, Minn., Basil McRae's goal late in the first period broke a 1-1 tie and helped the North Stars break an eight-game winless streak. The Red Wings had won five straight and had gone eight games without losing.
Whalers 4, Kings 3:
Ron Francis scored with 8:50 to play lifting Hartford in Inglewood, Calif.