The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have long been natural rivals. Over the nearly 46 seasons the Capitals have been in the league, the two Eastern Conference and Atlantic region teams have met multiples times during the regular season and playoffs. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle takes a walk down memory lane between a game in March 1984.
Heading into their game against the Rangers on Saturday, March 3, 1984, the Capitals held a 37-25-4 record and were in the midst of a dogfight within the now-defunct Patrick Division, involving four teams. The team was tied for third place in standings points with the Philadelphia Flyers, who were one point behind the New York Rangers, and three points behind the division-leading New York Islanders. The Rangers, meanwhile, sat with a 35-22-9 record prior to the game. As a result, the game would have implications in the Patrick Division standings: a win would allow the Capitals to pass the Rangers for second place. Fans were well aware of this rivalry as the arena was already sold out prior to game time, marking the first time a Capitals/Rangers game had sold out in Washington at the Capital Centre.
Then-Rangers Head Coach Herb Brooks, best known for coaching the United States Olympic hockey team to a Gold Medal in the “Miracle on Ice” Olympic games in 1980, remarked prior to the game, “The Capitals are for real.” Brooks had been in the stands for the Capitals’ prior game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, one in which they clobbered clobbered the Pens 9-1, and also had watched a game two weeks earlier, when the Caps defeated the Minnesota North Stars 4-0.
Then-Capitals Head Coach Bryan Murray ended up matching lines differently than normal, matching the Capitals’ line of Bobby Carpenter-Alan Haworth-Bryan Erickson against the Rangers’ line of Mark Pavelich-Jan Erixon-Anders Hedberg. In the past, Murray would normally match a checking line led by either Doug Jarvis or Glen Currie against the Rangers’ dangerous trio.
In net, the goaltending matchup saw Pat Riggin (Capitals) against Glen Hanlon (Rangers).
The Capitals got off to a promising start when Erickson scored on a power play at the 4:01 mark of the first, on assists from Bengt Gustafsson and Dave Christian. The lead would not last for long, however, as the Rangers’ Blaine Stoughton scored his 25th goal of the year at the 8:45 mark to knot the game at 1-1. Stoughton had stolen the puck from Capitals defenseman Scott Stevens, before shooting an unobstructed shot past Riggin. The score remained at 1-1, heading into the first intermission.
Much like the first frame, the second period got off to a good start for the Caps. New York’s Dave Maloney took his second penalty of the game at the 3:21 mark, this time for holding. The Capitals took the lead 50 seconds later as Carpenter scored his 21st goal of the year, on assists from Craig Laughlin and Scott Stevens. Just 42 seconds later, Carpenter scored again, this time at even-strength, after colliding with Hanlon before getting the rebound and scoring from close in front. Erickson and Haworth were credited with assists on this goal. The Capitals now led 3-1.
The Capitals continued to pour on the offense as the period went on. Mike Gartner scored his 33rd goal of the season at the 9:00 mark, after Hanlon had come out from the Rangers’ net and deflected Gartner’s shot into the net; Gustafsson was credited with the assist on the play. After earning two assists in the game, Gustafsson finally scored a goal of his own (his 31st of the year) at 16:34, after receiving a pass from Timo Blomqvist, with Gartner picking up assists on the play. The goal gave the home team a commanding 5-1 lead.
The third period was rather uneventful, but featured matching penalties by Gartner and Mark Osborne of the Rangers at the 13:06 mark and Maloney’s third penalty of the game. However, there was no more scoring for either team. The final score was 5-1 in favor of the Caps, as they won their second game in a row.
Murray’s matching Carpenter’s line against Pavelich’s line resulted in Carpenter scoring two goals and Erickson scoring one goal, and the entire group firing 12 shots on goal. The Pavelich line, meanwhile, had no goals and four shots.
After the game, Murray remarked, “I was offering a challenge to Bobby Carpenter. I put him on Pavelich on purpose. He knew the importance we place on stopping the Pavelich line and he responded. We have talked to Bobby Carpenter and we know his puck-handling ability is very, very good. We wanted him to take the play to their defensemen and create things. That’s what he did to the Rangers, and it was the same way he played in training camp. He was a dominating player in training camp, but after he hurt his shoulder, he wasn’t playing that way, and I think he lost some confidence. Against the Rangers, he was a dominating player.”
Meanwhile, Herb Brooks commented, “They have several lines they can throw against anybody’s top lines. Certainly, Bobby Carpenter is a good all-round player and Haworth has a lot of speed. Erickson’s inexperienced, but he’s a good all-round player, too. I’ve always been a Bobby Carpenter fan. He’s a hell of a young hockey player and I’m sure his best days are ahead of him. He’s going to have a fine NHL career. There were eyebrows raised when Washington picked him, but he was a fine choice. Between [scout] Jack Button and David Poile, they haven’t made very many bad moves here.”
The Caps ended up passing the Rangers for second place in the standings as a result of winning that night. March 3, 1984 was certainly an impactful day for the Capitals. They moved up to second place that evening and ultimately won four more games in a row to give the team a six-game winning streak.
By Diane Doyle
See more Retro Recaps HERE.