It was a wild and, they hope, nearly perfect evening for the Washington Capitals last night.
They shut out the New Jersey Devils, 4-0, before 15,521 at Capital Centre for their first two-game winning streak of the season, and then welcomed promising Soviet defenseman Mikhail Tatarinov.
The only blemish was that forward John Druce slightly sprained his left knee. It happened barely a second after Druce scored the first goal of the game, his third in two nights.
"I don't think it is all that serious," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "When you shut a team out in a big division win like this, it's a big hockey game."
Don Beaupre started in goal for the Caps, in part because Mike Liut -- a 4-3 winner over the Islanders Friday night -- was feeling a bit ill. Beaupre had the last Capitals' shutout, Feb. 27 against Chicago.
"The urgency to win was there tonight," Beaupre said.
Besides Druce's goal, the Capitals got two from Calle Johansson and one from Dale Hunter as they made it back-to-back wins inside the Patrick Division. It reversed a 3-2 Wednesday loss at New Jersey and provided momentum heading into a five-game, nine-day road trip.
As it was last night, goaltending was a key last spring. In the first round of the playoffs, the Devils won Game 3 with Chris Terreri in goal to take a 2-1 lead in the series. Devils Coach John Cunniff had decided before that game -- and told his goaltenders -- that he would start Sean Burke in Game 4, no matter what happened. Well, what happened in Game 4 was that the Capitals beat the Devils and Burke, 3-1, for the first of three straight victories, which gave them the series. Murray publicly chided Cunniff for the Game 3 switch, arguing that Page 1 of the coaching manual says never sit down a hot goalie in a key game. Page 2, Murray said, explained that whenever in doubt, refer to Page 1.
Mike Liut was in goal for the Capitals' 4-3 win Friday night over the New York Islanders. Liut wasn't perfect, but he made a couple of big stops and the salient point was that the Capitals won, ending a three-game losing streak.
"I know that Page 1 and Page 2 of the coaching manual will be out quickly if I make a change," Murray said jokingly after Friday's game.
As it was, Liut's queasy stomach was the reason for the change, according to Beaupre.
Beaupre had not started a regular season game at Capital Centre since March 6 -- the day after Liut was acquired but the day before he arrived. Beaupre did play in five home playoff games though.
He was sharp from the outset last night. He shifted quickly to deny Kirk Muller early in the first period. Later he turned back Alexei Kasatonov coming down the slot.
But on the scoreboard, good goaltending only keeps you even. Druce and Hunter put the Capitals ahead.
After Mike Ridley won a faceoff to Beaupre's right, Peter Bondra took off toward the Devils goal. He and Druce worked a give-and-go of sorts, Bondra's behind-the-back pass sending Druce in on Terreri. Druce flicked it in for his fourth goal and the lead 3:08 into the game.
Just after Druce released the shot, Brendan Shanahan checked him hard -- but cleanly -- from behind and to the side. Druce stayed in the game for a few minutes but skated off to the locker room with 11:59 left in the period.
A few minutes before Druce left, the Capitals took a 2-0 lead on another power-play goal. With four such goals against the Islanders Saturday, that unit entered the game ranked third in the NHL.
The Devils' Ken Daneyko was sent off for four minutes for interference and unsportsmanlike conduct. His unpleasant words to referee Bill McCreary hurt the Devils, because seven seconds into the second penalty, Dale Hunter took Calle Johansson's pass and beat Terreri with 14:16 left in the period.
The Capitals sealed the victory with Johansson's two goals in the third period. "We played a little bit smarter," defenseman Bob Rouse said, referring to the last two games. "The effort has always been there."