LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals continue to play their best hockey against the better teams in the NHL, and this could bode well for them in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs.
Washington took a giant step toward finishing with the %o second-best record in the NHL by defeating the Vancouver Canucks, 7-4, yesterday before a sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Capital Centre.
The Capitals have 95 points, eight fewer than the league-leading New York Rangers and ahead of the Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings by two and the Montreal Canadiens by three.
"The last game it was the Ridley line, today the Hunter line, and that's a good sign because this is a 20-man game," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "Our goal the last couple of weeks has been to finish second in our division and finish second overall in the league. We've accomplished one, and now we're on our way to achieving the second. This was a big win. It was a tribute to our special teams."
Goalie Don Beaupre posted his 29th victory of the season, breaking the club record of 28 shared by Pat Riggins and Al Jensen.
"I never thought about the club record," said Beaupre. "It's nice, but all I'm concerned about is winning the game and playing well."
Dimitri Khristich scored two goals and had an assist, Dale Hunter, Paul MacDermid, Dino Ciccarelli and Calle Johansson each had a goal and an assist and Mike Ridley scored a goal for the Capitals.
"We wanted to play well in these two games [Montreal on Friday and Vancouver] because they are two of the teams we are battling for second place with," said Hunter, who has 27 goals and 49 assists. "The top teams seem to be motivators for us, and we play well. Our power play, penalty killing and all aspects of the game are working well. Beating two quality teams like this is a real confidence builder with the playoffs coming up.
"Our line is going well right now. Khristich is a real talent. He can do so many things with the puck. MacDermid is the guy who does the dirty work. He crashes the net and digs the puck out of the corners. It's a real pleasure to play on this line."
The Capitals struck early, with Ridley scoring on a breakaway 30 seconds after the game's opening faceoff. Johansson added a power-play goal on a rising slap shot from the top of the slot less than six minutes later. MacDermid, taking a pass from Hunter, completed a two-on-none break with a shot from just off the crease for a 3-0 lead at the 9:07 mark.
Vancouver rallied on power-play goals by Sergio Momesso and Tom Fergus to cut the Washington advantage to one goal at the end of the first period.
A power-play goal by Hunter, who deflected a shot from the point by Kevin Hatcher past goalie Kirk McLean at 9:13 of the second period, gave the Capitals a 4-2 lead. Pavel Bure scored as he crashed into Beaupre 22 seconds later to make the score, 4-3. Khristich's unassisted breakaway goal, with a Canucks defenseman draped over his back, allowed Washington to regain a two-goal lead. The goal was the 322nd of the season, tying the club record.
Khristich's second goal of the game, at 8:54 of the third period, broke the club record set in 1985. This is the first season since 1986 that the Capitals have had four players with 70 or more
points. They are Khristich, Michal Pivonka, Ciccarelli and Hunter.
fTC Vancouver.... 2... 1... 1... --... 4
Washington... 3... 2... 2... --... 7