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The 1982-1983 season was the first season the Capitals ever made the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It was also the first full season that the late Bryan Murray coached the team. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks back on that memorable season and the success of the 1982-83 Capitals.
Then-owner Abe Pollin hired Murray on November 10, 1981, after the team had gotten off to a 1-13 start. Prior to being hired by the Caps, Murray had been Head Coach of the Hershey Bears. While the Caps did not make the playoffs in 1982, they retained Murray as coach for the following year.
Prior to promoting Murray from the Bears, Pollin also considered hiring Don Cherry. Cherry wanted control of the Capitals’ complete hockey operations, and Pollin decided against him. Pollin talked to Murray for two and a half hours and, after the interview, Pollin admitted, “If I hadn’t met Bryan, Don probably would have gotten the job.”
The 1982-1983 season did not start off very well for the Capitals, as they posted a 3-6-1 record in the month of October. They improved during the month of November by posting a 5-3-4 record for the month, to improve their overall record to 8-9-5. November included a six-game “unbeaten” streak (with only wins and ties).
December was much better as they recorded a 7-1-5 record, with their first loss in December coming on December 26, against the Philadelphia Flyers. They had a 14-game “unbeaten” streak that started on November 24 and continued through December 23, before losing to the Flyers. The team was 17-10-10 at the close of 1982.
In January, with the start of the New Year, the Caps went 7-6-2, even though their first game of the New Year was a 7-2 thrashing from the New York Rangers on New Year’s Day. Their overall record at the end of January was 24-16-12. In February, they went 6-4-2 on the month, and were 30-20-14 overall. The Caps had a good month in March, going 8-4-2 for a 38-24-16 overall record, despite ending the month with two consecutive losses. The month featured a seven-game unbeaten streak, which included a four-game winning streak. They played only two more regular season games and split them. Their final record for the regular season was a respectable 39-25-16 for 94 points. They finished third in the Patrick Division behind the Philadelphia Flyers, who finished the season with a 49-23-8 record and 106 points, and the New York Islanders who had a 42-26-12 record and 96 points.
This was the first season in which the Capitals had qualified for the playoffs. It was also the first season in which the Caps had ever had a winning record. Their previous high in wins was 27, which came all the way back in 1979-1980, and was 12 wins less than their 1982-1983 total of 39. Their previous high in points was 70, which came in 1980-1981, and was 24 less than their 1982-1983 total of 94. They would meet the New York Islanders in their first ever playoff series, which would begin on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders’ home arena.
Individual Performance Highlights
The Capitals’ leader in goals that season was Mike Gartner, who had 38 goals. Two other Caps topped the 30-goal threshold, as Dennis Maruk finished with 31, and Bobby Carpenter finished with 32.
The Caps had four other players who topped 20 goals: Bengt Gustafsson (22), Alan Haworth (23), Bobby Gould (22), and Ken Houston (25). Milan Novy (18), Craig Laughlin (17), and Gaetan Duchesne (18), all came close to the 20-goal threshold. This indicated a relatively balanced offense.
Maruk led the team in overall points with 81, followed by Gartner with 76, Carpenter with 69, and Gustafsson with 64. For assists, Maruk again led the team with 50, followed by Gustafsson with 42, Gartner with 38, Carpenter with 32, and Novy with 30. Several other players topped 20 assists.
Enforcer Randy Holt had 275 penalty minutes, while defenseman Scott Stevens, in just his first year in the league, had 195.
The Caps played their first ever playoff game on April 6, 1983, in the New York Islanders’ home arena at Nassau Coliseum. While Capitals forward Bobby Gould opened the scoring four minutes into the game on a power play goal, the Islanders answered five minutes later to tie.
The Islanders would score three more unanswered goals during the second period. While Gould scored once more early in the third period, the Islanders scored again. The final score was a decisive 5-2 victory for the Isles. The game was notable for numerous penalties, with eight minor penalties committed by both teams in the first period alone, 13 minor penalties overall, and three misconduct penalties. Stevens earned a 10-minute game misconduct for his part in a first period scrum.
The Capitals evened up the series in Game 2, which took place on April 7. Once again, Gould opened the scoring in the first period of the game and once again, the Islanders struck back to tie. But this time, the Caps scored a late first period goal to pull ahead on a Dennis Maruk goal. Gould scored a second goal during the third period. After that, both teams traded goals, with Bobby Carpenter scoring the fourth and last goal for the Caps. The final score was 4-2 in favor of the Caps, with the series heading to Washington, D.C.. This game was another penalty fest, featuring 17 minor penalties for both teams and another game misconduct for Stevens.
Game 3, which was the first home playoff game in franchise history, took place on April 9, at the Capital Centre. In this game, Bob Bourne of the Islanders scored two first period goals, while Bryan Trottier scored two second period goals to put the Caps in a 4-0 hole going into the third period. The final scored ended up being an easily decisive 6-2 in favor of the Islanders. Both Craig Laughlin and Scott Stevens scored. Once again, there were numerous minor penalties by both teams. Gord Lane and Randy Holt of the Caps received 10-minute misconducts near the end of the first period. Game 4 was played on the following day – April 10, a back-to-back game situation. The Islanders scored early in first period to take the lead. While Gaetan Duchene scored early in the second period, the Islanders scored three unanswered goals after that. Gould contributed his fifth goal of the series late in the second period to pull the Caps to 4-2. Ken Houston scored midway through the third period to pull the Caps to within one goal of tying, but the Islanders scored two more goals to put the game out of reach. The final score was 6-3 in favor of the Islanders. The Islanders won the “Best of Five” series and advanced to the second round, as the Caps were eliminated.
1982-83 was the first full season of Bryan Murray’s head coaching tenure with the Caps, one that lasted until he was fired midway through the 1989-1990 season, and replaced with his brother, Terry. He went on to coach other teams in the NHL, including the Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Anaheim Ducks (then the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim), and Ottawa Senators.
The 1982-1983 season was a season to remember for the Caps, being their first appearance in the playoffs, despite the fact they were eliminated in the first round. The Caps then qualified for the playoffs every year after that until the 1996-1997 season.
By Diane Doyle