The Calgary Flames may well win the Stanley Cup come May, but on a cold, rainy night in January, they weren't quite up to the level of the Washington Capitals.
Michal Pivonka scored twice, including the game-winner with 3:56 remaining, to lift the Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Flames in front of 18,130 last night at Capital Centre.
"This was the first game all season where we gave a solid 60 minutes of intense, concentrated hockey," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "We were really focused."
The Capitals played without captain Rod Langway, who developed back spasms about two hours before the game. A team physician examined Langway and determined that the veteran defenseman will be out for about a week. Joel Quenneville was called up from Baltimore and will join the Capitals today in Montreal for their 8 p.m. game against the Canadiens.
Last night's victory, which avenges a 9-4 pasting in Calgary in October, extends the Capitals' undefeated streak to four games (3-0-1). They kept pressure on goalie Mike Vernon throughout the game, outshooting the Flames 37-15.
Dimitri Khristich, a rookie from the Soviet Union, scored his fourth goal in the first period and Mike Ridley scored into an empty net with 45 seconds left for the other Capitals goals.
Gary Suter and Gary Roberts scored for Calgary. The Flames put only 15 shots on Capitals goalie Don Beaupre, but 13 saves were enough for the victory.
Other than having to play with only five defensemen, the Capitals had a few advantages. The Flames played Thursday night in Pittsburgh, where they lost, 5-1. The Capitals' last game was the exhibition Tuesday against Moscow Dynamo.
"It was a case of not being on top of our game, but we were still in the hockey game," said Vernon, who was outstanding from start to finish.
"We had one chance to get a point and that was with great goaltending," said Calgary Coach Doug Risebrough. "But we lost that with having to kill too many penalties."
Both of Pivonka's goals came on the power play and the Capitals had seven chances. The Flames, whose power play was ranked No. 1 coming in, were zero for two last night, though they scored their first goal just three seconds after a penalty to Mikhail Tatarinov expired.
Suter scored after taking a diagonal pass from Joe Nieuwendyk, with the shot glancing off Beaupre's shoulder before trickling into the net. The 1-0 lead stood up until Khristich gave one of the best examples of why the Capitals so wanted the 21-year-old Soviet.
Taking a pass from Peter Bondra, Khristich stepped around defenseman Ric Nattress. Robert Reichel tried to cut Khristich off but Khristich was too fast and cut in front of Vernon before sliding the shot past him for a 1-1 tie with 16:31 left in the second period.
"Dimitri can score goals," said Pivonka, who had the second assist and was centering the line that once had the more defensive-oriented Kelly Miller. "I need someone who can score goals. I can make the plays, but I need somebody to put the puck in the net."
Pivonka did that himself later in the second period. Kevin Hatcher's shot from the point was knocked down and a scramble ensued in front of the net. Pivonka knocked it in for his first goal in 14 games.
"I was still getting the chances," Pivonka said of the dry spell. "When you don't have chances, that's really bad."
Beaupre faced only three shots in the first period and nine in the second, but the last one in the middle period was unpleasant. Roberts was left all by himself and he slipped the puck past Beaupre for a 2-2 tie with 2:08 left in the second period.
The Capitals didn't panic. They continued to play smart defense.
"We don't want to get into a shootout with anybody," said Hatcher, who talked with the other four defensemen about taking shorter shifts and making the simple play.
The patience paid off when Pivonka re-routed Calle Johansson's shot past Vernon.
"It was 2-2," said Vernon. "I was hoping we would get the lucky bounce that they got."