Rangers KO Hunter, Caps, 3-1

November 29, 1993|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The Washington Capitals had hoped the return of veteran center Dale Hunter from a 21-game suspension Friday would be the catalyst to turn around their up-and-down season.

Instead, last night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden, Hunter was tripped from behind on a play that caused him to sprain his left knee and be sidelined for 10 days, a play that demonstrated the difference in caliber between the striking NHL referees and their replacements.

Adding to Washington's discontent was that the Rangers, who'd had their 14-game unbeaten streak snapped Saturday night, beat the Caps, 3-1, on goals by Mark Messier, Steve Larmer and Adam Graves.

The Capitals will play the New York Islanders tomorrow night without Hunter, who earned his suspension for a late hit on Islanders forward Pierre Turgeon at Nassau Coliseum during last season's playoffs.

Capitals coach Terry Murray and Hunter, who took the injury hard, emerged from the dressing room with little to say.

"I'm not playing," he said, walking away limping. "There's nothing really to say. It's a sprained knee, boys."

Hunter, playing in only his second game this season, was taken down by New York defenseman Alexei Kovalev with 14:23 gone in the second period.

The Caps were on a power play and the puck had gone behind the Washington net. Goalie Don Beaupre had gone to control it and Hunter, after looking over his shoulder to make sure Beaupre would have no pressure, continued to skate casually toward the Capitals' net. Just before he got there, Kovalev skated up and the toe of his skate took Hunter's right leg out

from under him. When he fell, he twisted and sprained his left one. No penalty was called.

"It was a close call," said Wally Harris, assistant director of NHL officials, who was at the game. "His left foot hit Hunter's skate. Some officials would call it. He did get his foot in there, it was on the ice, Hunter did get hurt, so I'll send the tape to the league office for review.

"But as I looked at it, it didn't look intentional to me."

Kovalev also denied any bad intentions.

"I just skated there to protect in the zone," he said. "My foot hit his foot. I didn't mean to hit his foot."

But Murray and the Capitals saw the play differently. While refusing to comment directly on the officials, Murray did have a few words about the incident.

"Dale Hunter has a second-degree sprain of the knee and we're going to miss him," Murray said. "There should've been a call on it. What's going to happen or what should've happened is irrelevant. He [Kovalev] deliberately took his foot from under him and sprained his knee. There's not much else we can say about it."

There has been some concern since the NHL officials went on strike two weeks ago that injuries could occur if the replacement officials did not keep control of the games.

Veteran center Dave Poulin is in his 13th NHL season.

"This is the best hockey league in the world and you're asking people that have never ever done this before to come in and do it," he said. "I think the biggest thing you're seeing right away is the skating. They can't skate. They can't keep up with the players. I think we underestimate the condition and the abilities of [the regular] referees as skaters."

Poulin wouldn't comment directly on Hunter's injury. "It's not one thing, it's everything. It's from the start of the game to the end of the game and once again it's very difficult to judge them, because they're not professionals.

"Can I go make decisions in their companies for two weeks, decisions that affect their business? It makes a big difference. It's affecting our business."

Mike Ridley, who was on the ice when Hunter was hurt, was behind the action -- with the officials.

"I think it's just a tough job for them," he said. "I think it's like calling up a guy from the minors and telling him to go score goals. If these guys were NHL-caliber, they'd already be refereeing in the NHL."

The Rangers scored with 12:39 gone in the first period, when they got the drop on Washington penalty killers Poulin, Todd Krygier, Kevin Hatcher and Calle Johansson.

The Rangers' Brian Leetch got off a terrific pass to a

fast-breaking Graves, who was behind the Washington defense. Beaupre, with no help in sight, came up big on Graves' shot, but the puck bounced out to Messier at Beaupre's right and he punched it in for a 1-0 lead.

New York's stretched the advantage to 2-0 in the second period on another power-play goal. Larmer used a screen by Hatcher to beat Beaupre with a slap shot.

Washington finally got on the board with 6:34 gone in the period, when Kelly Miller and Johansson combined to give Hatcher the puck inside the blue line for a slap shot that beat goalie Mike Richter high to the glove side.

The 2-1 margin lasted less than two minutes. The Rangers gained control of a Beaupre clearing pass and Messier found Graves for a 3-1 lead.

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