LANDOVER -- On a few occasions during the last month or so, the Washington Capitals have charged out to two-, three- and four-goal leads, then slipped into a trance. Suddenly, they were fighting tooth and nail for the win, maybe even losing.
So, last night, the Caps hit the Calgary Flames with everything but the exercise bike in the players' lounge in the first 30 minutes and were breezing atop a 4-0 cushion. And this time there was no letup.
In fact, the way they were swarming all over the ice, it appeared the Flames were anxiously looking forward to getting on with their lives away from the rink.
"There's no magic button me or anyone else can push to keep it going," confessed Caps coach Terry Murray. "All you can do is remind the players to keep pushing; keep talking it up on the bench and in the locker room."
For years, the Caps have had a reputation of returning from a road trip one day after their first game back. That and the fact the first period has been far and away their most troublesome period all year had Murray worried. No problem this time.
"All four lines came out fired up from the start," noted the coach. Randy Burridge knocked in his 10th goal about a third of the way through the first 20 minutes and Mike Ridley bagged his 12th about six minutes later. The 2-0 advantage could have been at least doubled had not Calgary goalie Mike Vernon been on his toes because the Caps sent 15 shots his way in the first 18 minutes.
When Al Iafrate (8) and Peter Bondra (15) scored in the first 10 minutes of the second period and Washington's shot total arrived at 25, Rick Wamsley was sent in to replace the shellshocked Vernon.
"There was a time late in the second period when we seemed to slacken during a power play, the guys noticed it and they talked about it during intermission," said Murray. "The players know better than anyone that we're not going to put up with any sliding no matter what the situation. It just leads to bad habits."
Thus the Caps kept coming and coming and dominating, making the Flames look like an also-ran, not a team that has averaged 45 wins the last seven seasons with a Stanley Cup triumph in its not too distant past (1988-89).
"The Capitals are a good team," said Calgary's leading scorer Theoren Fleury, "but we came in here rested and should have done better. We just have to come out of this [two wins in their last 10 games], but that's not going to happen when you go 1-for-8 on the power play."
The Caps hardly had to sweat being a man down, the Flames getting off just four shots on their first five power plays. Finally, early in the third period, Joe Nieuwendyk messed up Don Beaupre's bid for his 13th career shutout.
After going 8-2, then 7-3 in 10-game segments, the Caps arrived at the 30-game station going 6-4 over the last 10 games. They're tied for the NHL lead in points at 42 with Montreal having played three fewer games. And they have played six fewer games at home than on the road. As any hockey person is wont to say, "It's awfully tough to win in the other guy's building."