The 1983-84 season for the Washington Capitals could simply be described as a roller coaster ride. It began with a seven-game losing streak that was followed by a five-game winning streak. On January 11, they finally climbed over .500, a mark they hadn’t reached the entire season. The Capitals would ultimately amass a record of 25-21-4 going into their game on January 27. The game would be the start of something special – the longest winning streak in franchise history up to that point.
Game 1 – 1/27/1984 — Capitals vs Toronto Maple Leafs
The streak started on a Friday night when the Toronto Maple Leafs came to the Capital Centre. Pat Riggin was in goal for the Caps and Mike Palmateer, the former Capitals goalie, was in goal for Toronto.
In that game, Rick Vaive scored just under six minutes into the period to stake the Leafs to a 1-0 lead. But the Capitals answered just over two minutes later when Bengt Gustafsson scored a power play goal for his 26th tally of the year. Bryan Erickson scored late in the first period to give the Caps a 2-1 lead.
The scoring continued to be “All Caps”, as Darren Veitch scored early in the second period and Alan Haworth, Dave Christian, and Bryan Erickson all scored in the third period. Erickson had two goals that day, tripling his total for the season and for his career. The Capitals scored six unanswered goals after Toronto’s opening goal.
The final score was 6-1. The Capitals outshot Toronto by 32-13 during the final two periods.
Game 2 – 1/28/1984 — Capitals @ Toronto Maple Leafs
The next day, the Caps had a rematch with the Leafs, this time in Toronto. The game was once again an all Washington affair as the visitors clobbered the Maple Leafs 8-0. At the time, it was the Capitals’ most lopsided shutout win in franchise history. The goalie matchup was the same as the previous day: Pat Riggin for the Capitals and Mike Palmateer for the Leafs.
The game was the last game before the All-Star Break, as the Capitals would not resume play until February 2.
Game 3 – 2/2/1984 — Capitals @ New Jersey Devils
After the All-Star Break, the Capitals returned to action against the New Jersey Devils. There was little scoring in a game that was full of minor penalties for both teams.
Defenseman Scott Stevens scored his ninth goal of the season on a power play just over halfway through the period and Doug Jarvis added an empty-net goal near the end of the game. The final score was 2-0 in favor of the Caps. Riggin made 14 saves for the Caps.
Game 4 – 2/3/1984 – Capitals vs Montreal Canadiens
The Capitals returned home to the Capital Centre to start a four-game homestand. The hosts took a 1-0 lead when Alan Haworth scored a power play goal over halfway through the first period. Dave Christian added another goal early in the second period to put the Caps up 2-0. Pierre Mondou scored for Montreal midway through the middle frame to put Montreal within one goal. Mike Gartner and Bobby Carpenter answered after the midpoint of the third period to put the Capitals up 4-1, which was the final score. Mondou’s goal broke Riggin’s shutout spell at 203 minutes, 52 seconds, which is still the longest in franchise history.
Game 5 – 2/5/1984 – Capitals vs Edmonton Oilers
The Edmonton Oilers were the next team to visit the Capital Centre. Wayne Gretzky, the Oilers’ great, marquee center, did not accompany the team as he was dealing with a shoulder injury and remained home in Canada. The game was only the third game he had missed during his career to that point. With Gretzky not traveling on the road trip, Oilers’ Public Relations spokesman Bill Tuele stayed home, too. He told the Washington Post, “I travel because of Wayne, period”. Then-Vice President George Bush was part of the audience for that game, as well as then-Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Michael Deaver.
The Gretzky-less Oilers were no match for the Capitals on this day. Three different players scored for the Caps in the first period alone: Mike Gartner, Bobby Gould and Bobby Carpenter and they led 3-1 after one period; Gartner scored less than a minute into the period and the Oilers tied the score but Gould and Carpenter scored to pull ahead. Mark Messier scored a second period goal to pull the Oilers within one goal at 3-2, but the third period featured an avalanche of goals for the home team, six goals in all. For the night, Carpenter, Gartner, Gould, and Gaetan Duchesne all had two goals, while Bengt Gustafsson had one goal, with the final score sitting at 9-2. The Capitals’ first three goals in the third period were scored in a span of 39 seconds, a club record at that time. Their first five goals in the third period were scored in a span of 7:33, which set a club record at that point in franchise history. Gartner’s two goals that day also allowed him to tie and then break the franchise record for goals scored for the franchise, which was 182 goals held by Dennis Maruk. He would hold the franchise record for goals until Peter Bondra passed it.
Game 6 – 2/8/1984 – Capitals vs Calgary Flames
Fortunately for Washington, they had two games off after their game against Edmonton, as the flu was going around in the locker room. The Capitals scored the first goal of the game just over seven minutes into the contest when Christian scored a power play goal. Just over four minutes later, defenseman Lanny McDonald tied the game for the Flames. Craig Laughlin scored a power play goal over two minutes later to put the Caps ahead 2-1. The remaining goals were all scored by the Caps, as they scored three times during the second period, with Glen Currie, Bobby Carpenter, and Bengt Gustafsson all scoring and giving the team a 5-1 lead, with Mike Gartner adding a sixth goal during the third period. The final score was 6-1. The win allowed the Caps to move out of fourth place in the Patrick Division, passing the Philadelphia Flyers in moving up to third place.
Game 7 – 2/11/1984 – Capitals vs Philadelphia Flyers
The homestand continued for a fourth game, this time against the Philadelphia Flyers. As had been customary in recent games, the Capitals scored first, this time on an Alan Haworth tally at 7:34. The Flyers answered just over two minutes later to tie up the score. The Flyers then scored another goal in the first period to take a 2-0 lead, followed by their third unanswered goal less than two minutes into the second period for a 3-1 lead. The Caps’ winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy, however, just over a minute past the middle of the period, Gartner scored his 28th goal of the year and again that period on a power play to tie the score at 3-3. Scott Stevens scored with a minute and a half to go in the period to give the Capitals the lead. During the third period, Haworth and Stevens each scored again as the team won 6-3.
Game 8 – 2/13/1984 – Capitals @ Minnesota North Stars
After finishing their four-game homestand, the Caps started a season-long, seven-game road trip on which the first stop was the Metropolitan Sports Center in Minnesota, where they played the Minnesota North Stars. During a penalty-filled first period, Dave Christian scored his 25th goal of the season nearly halfway through the frame, staking the visitors to a 1-0 lead; they maintained this lead through the second period, which turned into another penalty-filled period, including four penalties for the Capitals. The Capitals finally scored again nearly halfway through the third period, when Bengt Gustafsson scored on a power play. Mike Gartner and Bryan Erickson both added goals to make the score 4-0, which ended as the final score. Pat Riggin recorded his third shutout of the streak by making 37 saves; it also marked his third consecutive shutout on the road. The Caps killed off seven penalties in the game, which increased their penalty-killing streak to 32. Up to this game, the North Stars had had the league’s best power play. This win moved the Capitals to within two points of the top of the Patrick Division.
Game 9 – 2/16/1984 – Capitals @ Los Angeles Kings
The Capitals’ next game was in the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles. In this game, Brian MacLellan, who would go on to become the Capitals’ General Manager some 30 years later, scored on a power play midway through the second period to put the Kings up 1-0. This goal broke the Capitals’ successful penalty-killing streak, which ended at 35 successful kills. It also broke Riggin’s road shutout streak at 241 minutes and 45 seconds Bengt Gustafsson answered 40 seconds later with a game-tying goal, while Bernie Nicholls put the Kings ahead just over a minute later. Nearly two minutes after Nicholls’ goal, Mike Gartner scored his 31st goal of the season to tie the score at 2-2, and defenseman Larry Murphy scored a goal at the end of the second period to put the Caps ahead 3-2. There was no more scoring in the contest until Gaetan Duchesne scored a power play, empty-net goal near the end of the game to solidify a 4-2 win.
Game 10 – 2/18/1984 – Capitals @ St. Louis Blues
The Capitals’ next game was at the St. Louis Arena in St. Louis, where they faced the St. Louis Blues. The game’s first period was a penalty-filled frame with no goals. Capitals forward Craig Laughlin scored nearly two minutes into the second period to put the visitors up 1-0, a lead that lasted until just past the eight-minute mark, when Doug Gilmore scored for the Blues. Joe Mullen put the Blues ahead 2-1 near the end of the period, which was answered early in the third period when Alan Haworth and Bobby Carpenter each scored to put Washington ahead 3-2. Doug Jarvis added an empty-net goal with a minute left.
This win gave the Caps their 10th consecutive win, which was the first double-digit win streak in franchise history. It put the Capitals in a tie for first place in the Patrick Division standings with the New York Islanders.
Riggin spoke about the streak to the Washington Post, “This has got to be a big thing for Mr. [Abe] Pollin and all the fans who stuck with the team through the losing years. I hope they’re enjoying it, because I know we are.”
Aftermath and Analysis
The streak ended the next day (February 19), when the Capitals played the Winnipeg Jets, a game they lost 4-3 in overtime, in which they held leads of 2-1 and 3-2 at various points of the contest. Both Riggin and Murphy misplayed the puck and Doug Smail took advantage. The team would lose their next two games against the Chicago Blackhawks (2/22) and Detroit Red Wings (2/24), but then beat the Hartford Whalers in their next contest (2/26) to end the brief losing skid, which marked the end of the road trip.
Throughout the q0-game winning streak, the Capitals outscored their opponents by a 53-12 margin and outshot them by a 317-227 margin. They also scored 14 power play goals on 45 opportunities (31.1%) and killed 38 penalties out of 39 (97.4%).
During the streak, the Caps dressed the same 12 forwards but used seven different defensemen. Goalie Pat Riggin played in all 10 games and posted a 1.20 Goals-Against Average and a .947 Save Percentage throughout the streak, which included three shutouts. Riggin became the starter since Al Jensen, who had been an All-Star goalie only the prior season, was having back issues. On February 22, Jensen was told to stay off the ice until March 1.
Among the team’s forwards, Mike Gartner led the way in goals with eight, while Dave Christian, Bobby Carpenter, and Alan Haworth all had five goals; Craig Laughlin had four goals, while Greg Adams was the only forward who did not score. The team leader in assists during the 10-game span was Christian, with 11 assists. Gartner was second with nine. Carpenter, defensemen Timo Blomqvist, and Scott Stevens had six helpers, and Haworth had five. Gartner also led the club with 17 points, followed by Christian with 16; Laughlin and Carpenter each had 11 points while Haworth had 10. Stevens had the most points among defensemen with nine.
Following the streak, the Caps went 29-7-2 in their final 38 games and finished in second place in the Patrick Division. They swept the Philadelphia Flyers in three games (In those days, the first round of the playoffs was a five-game series.), but lost to the New York Islanders in five games.
This franchise record winning streak would last until the 2009-10 season, when the team won 14 games in a row. Coincidentally, that streak was also during the January/February time frame.
NHL: Time Capsule: The First 10 Game Streak
Washington Post Sports Bog: The Last Time the Caps Won 10
Building An Era of Improvement: A Look Back At the 1983-84 Washington Capitals Season
By Diane Doyle