In early January 1998, the Philadelphia Flyers arrived in Washington to play the Capitals in their first visit to the Nation’s capital since the Capitals had moved from U.S. Air Arena (long-known as the Capital Centre) in Landover, Maryland, to MCI Center (now Capital One Arena) in downtown Washington, DC. Then-Capitals captain Dale Hunter was on the verge of a monumental milestone, entering play just three points shy of 1,000 career points in the National Hockey League. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle takes a look back at what would prove to be a momentous game for the Capitals’ longtime forward.
Heading into the game, the Capitals held a record of 20-16-8, while the Flyers had a record of 24-10-8. Both teams were battling for supremacy in the Atlantic Division along with the New Jersey Devils. The home team in this instance appeared to be rediscovering their offense in the contests leading up to the match against Philly, as they had scored 19 goals in their prior five games after a low-scoring stretch of just 19 goals in a 10-game stretch during which they had won just one game, lost five, and tied in four. The roster was also getting healthier, as a number of players were returning from injuries. The Flyers, meanwhile, were in the midst of a four-game win streak and had won nine of their previous 12 games.
The game did not start off well for the home Capitals, as just over a minute into the game, Flyers center Rob Brind’Amour scored the game’s first goal, getting assists from Eric Desjardins and Chris Therien; the marker at 1:15 was Brind’Amour’s 19th goal of the season.
Nearly six minutes later, the Capitals’ Andrew Brunette evened the score, literally and figuratively. The forward scored his sixth goal of the season and his sixth goal in six games after receiving a pass from defenseman Sergei Gonchar from the point and then burying it past Philly netminder Garth Snow. With five minutes to go in the period, the Flyers’ Paul Coffey and the Caps’ Todd Krygier got into a scrum, earning both players two-minute roughing penalties. The two teams headed into the first intermission deadlocked at 1-1 and
In a reverse of the opening frame, the Capitals were the team who started off the second period on the scoresheet. Just over three minutes into the period, Capitals captain Dale Hunter intercepted a clearing attempt by Flyers defenseman Chris Therien. He then passed to forward Peter Bondra, who scored his 27th goal of the season; forward Craig Berube was credited with the secondary assist. Less than a minute later, Washington rearguard Mark Tinordi scored his eighth goal of the season on assists by Berube and Hunter, giving the hosts a 3-1 lead.
Berube would score a goal of his own on a 40-foot slapshot after receiving a pass from Hunter with under two minutes to go in the period, with Kelly Miller getting the secondary assist on Berube’s fourth marker of the season. Hunter’s assist to Berube was his third helper of the game and gave him the three points needed for his 1,000th NHL point.
In reaching 1,000 points, Hunter became the third Capitals player to achieve the milestone during the 1997-98 season. Center Adam Oates reached the mark on October 7, 1997, against the New York Islanders, while defenseman Phil Housley earned his 1,000th point against the Edmonton Oilers on November 8, 1997.
Unlike the previous two frames, there was no scoring during the third period. The Flyers took back-to-back penalties by Daniel LaCroix and Colin Forbes early in the period, but the Capitals were unable to convert on either of the subsequent power plays. The Caps themselves took two penalties, with defenseman Ken Klee assessed an hooking-obstruction penalty, and goalie Olaf Kolzig being assessed a Delay of Game shortly into the infraction to Klee, after attempting to clear the puck that careened over the glass. Fortunately for both teammates, the Capitals were able to kill off a short 5-on-3 and remaining power play. The final score remained at 4-1 at the final buzzer.
For the game, the Flyers had outshot the Caps 25-17 but were only able to score once; additionally, they had gone 0-4 on the power play, including a brief 5-on-3.
As previously mentioned, Hunter was the third Capitals player to reach the 1,000th point milestone during the 1997-98 season. The Capitals’ captain’s achievement of 1,000 NHL points was the first time in which three players from the same club had achieved the feat during a single season and he is the only player in NHL history with 1,000 points and 3,000 penalty minutes. At the conclusion of the night, Hunter had scored 318 goals in his career and had recorded 682 assists.
Defenseman Calle Johansson, one of Hunter’s closest friends and longtime teammate in Washington, talked about his milestone afterwards, saying, “That stands out because it’s a hell of an accomplishment for a guy like that who really works hard. He’s not a goal scorer. For him to have done all that over a long period of time and then score a thousand points, that was really, really nice I think.”
By Diane Doyle