LANDOVER -- Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray has said all along that for his team to be productive in the playoffs, every line will need to chip in some offense. Any offense.
Coming into last night's fourth game of the Patrick Division semifinals down 2-1, the woeful Caps had scored just three goals in as many games on Rangers goalie Mike Richter.
During the regular season, in the various spells when Dino Ciccarelli and Mike Ridley, a pair of former scoring stars, didn't produce, it was often left to one of the fourth liners to decide the outcome.
Last night, after falling behind 1-0 in the first period, the Caps not only used four lines of power but defensive domination and intimidation as well to dump the Rangers, 3-2, and even the series that heads back to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night.
You couldn't tell from the close score, but it was nearly a perfect performance over the final two periods from the Capitals.
How about this for a patchwork team of role players?
Kevin Hatcher, an All-Star defenseman who is better known for his team-leading scoring potential (24 goals), not only got the Caps out of a four-period drought with the team's first goal, but he leveled at least a half-dozen Rangers who dared to go into the defensive corners and attempt to dig out a loose puck.
"I wanted to play that kind of game all along but it's a matter of timing," Hatcher said. "When you can't dump the puck into their zone you can't go in and hit anyone. You have to make the defensemen start to go backward in order to get good contact and to try to come out of the corner with the puck."
Left wing Dave Tippett, an aging defensive specialist who was scratched in the first game of the series, led the scoring attack on a line with Dale Hunter and Ciccarelli. He made Hatcher's goal possible with a brilliant pass just 25 seconds into the middle period and then gave the Caps the lead for good with a goal of his own 15 minutes later.
Right wing Alan May, known best for his fists and tough-guy image, was the unlikely beneficiary of the Caps' third goal, beating Richter between the pads from point-blank range off a rebound of a Mike Lalor shot midway through the third period.
Then there's Hunter.
Perhaps one of the chippiest, dirtiest centers in the game come playoff time, Hunter had been so unusually quiet over the past week that Murray had to take him aside on Monday for a pep talk.
Apparently, it worked.
Dale Hunter finally played, well, like Dale Hunter. In addition to getting assists on the first two goals, Hunter jawed at every Ranger within shouting distance, got involved in two skirmishes, pushed people after the whistle and tied forwards up behind the play.
In the words of Rangers defenseman Brian Leetch, Hunter "played like the pest that he is."
"I started hearing after Sunday's game from everyone that Dale wasn't playing well," Murray said. "I guess if you look at the offensive stats you might say that about everyone. He's certainly played better in the past. But we had a talk. He's a veteran and he knows what it's going to take to win this series. He knows how much this counts."
And so do the Rangers. After tomorrow's game in Manhattan, the series will return to the Cap Centre for Game 6 on Saturday and neither team wants to be backed into needing to take two in a row to win the series.