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During the 1985-86 season, the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers was very strong. In late March of 1986, the Flyers were in first place in the Patrick Division with a record of 48-21-4 and 100 standings points, while the Capitals were in second place with a record of 46-21-5 and 97 standings points. In the latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle takes a look back at one of the hard-fought matches between the two rivals.
At that point in the season, the Caps had narrowed their standings deficit from 10 points at the end of January, but had not gained any points on the Flyers during March, as both teams had played well during the month. The Flyers were on a six-game winning streak, which included a 2-0 win against the Capitals on March 13. Then-Philadelphia Head Coach Mike Keenan had won his 100th NHL game as a coach in the process. Washington, meanwhile, had won their last game and had won eight in a row in a streak that had started in late February and had continued until the last meeting between the Capitals and Flyers.
On March 23, 1986, the Flyers visited the Capital Centre in front of a sold-out crowd. At that point in the season, the Flyers had won four out of the five prior matchups between the two teams and had a combined 9-2-1 record against the Capitals stretching across the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons. The Capitals started Pete Peeters in net, while The Flyers countered with Bob Froese, who had given up just one goal in his prior outing against the Caps. Most of the games between the Caps and Flyers that season had been penalty fests, with lots of fighting, roughness, and physicality. In anticipation of a repeat, the Flyers’ starting lineup included their chief enforcers, Dave Brown and Dave Richter. The Caps countered with two enforcers of their own in Dwight Schofield and John Barrett.
The Flyers wasted very little time in getting on the board when at Ron Sutter’s shot got past Peeters at the 1:38 mark, on assists from Rick Tocchet and Ron’s brother, Rich. The Capitals’ Bobby Carpenter scored the equalizer (his 27th of the season) at 3:22 when he tucked the puck behind Froese, receiving an assist from Craig Laughlin.. Gaetan Duchesne put the Caps ahead 2-1 at 4:40 with his ninth goal of the season, assisted by Mike Gartner. However, the tide turned soon after in the Flyers’ favor. Duchesne was penalized for hooking at 11:02, and the subsequent man-advantage lasted less than half a minute. Just 20 seconds after Duchesne took a seat for his infraction, Philadelphia’s Tim Kerr scored his 50th goal of the season on the power play to tie the game at 2-2, followed by another goal just 11 seconds later to put the Flyers on top. The score was 3-2 going into the first intermission, although the Capitals outshot the Flyers 12-8.
The Capitals would respond early in the middle frame on a goal from defenseman Scott Stevens 1:22 into the period to even the score at 3-3. His 11th goal of the season came on assists from Larry Murphy and Stephen Leach. Soon after Stevens’ goal, the Capitals’ Bob Gould was knocked to ice after being smacked on the temple by a stick. At 4:41, Dave Christian put the Caps ahead 4-3 with his 38th goal of the season, assisted by Bengt Gustafsson and Kevin Hatcher. Following Christians’ goal, Keenan opted to pull Froese (after giving up four goals on 15 shots) and replace him with veteran backup goaltender Glen Resch. Less than a minute later, Tocchet was on the ice trying to goad Capitals’ Captain Rod Langway in a fight, while a few feet away, Lindsay Carson, another notorious pest, started a brawl with Carpenter. Carson and Carpenter were each given two minutes for roughing and no other players were penalized.
The Caps added another goal at 11:30, on a power play, as Laughlin scored his 25th goal of the year on assists from Gustafsson and Gartner, giving the home team a 5-3 lead. However, the two-goal cushion did not last long. Ilkka Sinisalo of the Flyers scored his 35th goal of the year just 11 seconds after Laughlin’s goal, cutting the Capital’ lead to 5-4, which was the score heading into the second intermission. The Capitals once again outshot the Flyers, 11-4.
Due to a groin issue, Peeters was replaced for the third period by Al Jensen. Shortly after this, Tocchet skated towards the Capitals’ bench with his stick raised high, coming within a foot of Peeters (the implication appearing to be that, if Peeters were such a brave goaltender, why would he be sitting out the third period of a rivalry game). Peeters explained afterwards, “So, that’s when I tried to punch him in the mouth.”
Brian Propp tied the game 1:37 into the period with his 37th goal of the season. The Caps struck back over a minute later when at 2:54, Gould scored his 14th goal of the year, on an assist from Laughlin; the goal would prove to be the game-winner. On the penalty front, Greg Adams of the Capitals and Doug Crossman of the Flyers were handed matching slashing penalties, the only penalties of the period. Unlike the previous two periods, the Flyers had outshot the Caps 11-10 for the period (However the Caps had outshot the Flyers 33-23). The win put Washington within only one point of the Flyers in the Patrick Division standings.
After the game, Washington Head Coach Bryan Murray discussed the goalie change for the Flyers, “Nobody asked me this question, but now that we’ve put him [Froese] out of the net, it should be a tremendous psychological lift for our players. We’ve watched him carefully recently and learned some things. He was really struggling. The reason he has a league-leading 2.5 Goals-Against Average is that nobody ever gets any shots on him. He doesn’t have to do much work.”
Bobby Carpenter said the strategy for this game was to shoot high and shoot a lot. Bengt Gustafsson, who was celebrating his 28th birthday and had two assists, said, “Just keep bombing him. Make him scramble.” There was a birthday cake at Gustafsson’s locker postgame but it remained uncut.
Then-Capitals General Manager David Poile commented, “Yanking Froese doesn’t show much confidence in the top goaltender in the league, does it?”
Pete Peeters remarked, on the Flyers’ goalie switch, “What in the world was Flyers coach Mike Keenan thinking?”
Murray had more to say after the game, “When it comes right down to it, you have to play the game right. He also indicated, if given his druthers, would ignore the goon tactics that are back in vogue for the NHL. He continued, “When the games become important enough, nobody’s going to be afraid of anyone, not even the littlest guy or the biggest guy . . . This was playoff hockey. Emotional, hard-working. It’s been said we can’t win the big game. I thought we did that today.”
Washingto Post Pregame Story on Mike Keenan
Washington Post Pregame Story on Bryan Murray
New York Times Story on Game
NHL.Com — This Date in Caps History March 23
Washington Post Game Recap