The Capitals have opened their season against the Rangers on a few occasions, including their first game ever back on October 9, 1974. One particularly memorable matchup took place on October 13, 1986 at Madison Square Garden.
Going into the game, both the Caps and Rangers had records of 0-2 and were looking for their first win of the season. During the prior season, the Capitals had the best regular season record in the Patrick Division at 46-25-9 for 101 points, but were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, while the Rangers had a record of 36-38-6 for 78 points and finished third in the Patrick Division. The Rangers were the team who had eliminated the Caps from the playoffs in 1986.
The goalie matchup was Al Jensen for the Capitals and Doug Soetaert for the Rangers. Soetaert was making his first start of the year for the Rangers. John Vanbiesbrouck, who was normally the Rangers’ Number one netminder, was struggling, like the rest of the team, and had just given up six goals in a 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins just two days earlier.
The Rangers also made some personnel moves before the game, demoting defensemen Norm Maciver and left winger Mike Donnelly, both of whom played in the Rangers’ opener. Caps left wing, Greg Adam, was serving a suspension for leaving the bench during a preseason brawl.
The Capitals started the game on the wrong foot when Gaetan Duchesne took a high sticking penalty nearly a minute into the contest. 80 seconds later, Willie Huber scored for the Rangers, getting assists from James Patrick and Pierre Larouche.
Nearly four minutes into the game, the Rangers’ Dave Gagner took a penalty, but the Caps were unable to score. Just five seconds after that penalty expired, Tom Laidlaw took a penalty for the Rangers, but not only did the Caps not take advantage, but gave up a short handed goal.
No further damage happened during the period and the score remained 2-0 in favor of the Rangers going into first intermission. The Caps had spent much of the period in their defensive zone as Jensen made 19 saves for that period. There were five more minor penalties that period for both teams, but no scoring as a result.
The Rangers added their third goal at 3:09 when Walt Poddubny scored, getting assists from Tomas Sandstrom and Kjell Samuelsson.
Finding themselves down 3-0, the Capitals finally woke up. After Kjell Samuelsson was penalized for holding, Bobby Carpenter scored the first goal for the Caps on the power play, getting an assist from defenseman Larry Murphy at 6:32.
Nearly three minutes later, Michal Pivonka scored, getting assists from Mike Gartner and Greg Smith. This was Pivonka’s first NHL goal on which Gartner recorded his 300th NHL assist. The score was now 3-2.
‘The Rangers scored again near the end of the period, at 18:44, to make the score 4-2. Pierre LaRouche scored a power play goal, getting assists from Dan Maloney and Mike Ridley while Pivonka was in the penalty box for a holding penalty. The score remained 4-2, going into the second intermission. There were six minor penalties during the second period, with two power play goals resulting, one for each team.
The Caps knew they had to get to work during third period if they were to have any chance of winning the game. Yvon Corriveau broke through at 8:17, getting assists from Larry Murphy and Dave Christian. This was Corriveau’s first NHL goal.
Fisticuff broke out just over a minute later – at 9:20. Initially, Yvon Corriveau of the Capitals and Don Osborne of the Rangers got into a scrum. Scott Stevens of the Caps and Don Jackson then got involved. Don Jackson of the Rangers then punched Scott Stevens who punched back in return and a fight broke out. Corriveau and Osborn were both assessed roughing penalties. Stevens and Jackson were both given fighting major penalties and misconduct penalties and were basically ejected from the game.
Mike Gartner scored the game tying goal at 10:33, his first of the season. He got assists from defensemen Murphy and Kevin Hatcher. Less than a minute later, Bob Brooke of the Rangers was assessed with a cross checking penalty.
Craig Laughlin scored on the ensuing power play at 13:12 as the Caps took the lead and the score was 5-4. He was assisted by Hatcher and Carpenter.
Dave Christian scored over a minute after that, at 14:23. He got assists from Gaetan Duchesne and Kevin Hatcher. The Caps led 6-4.
But the Rangers were not done yet. With Laughlin in the penalty box for holding, Mike Ridley scored on the power play for the Rangers. Then in a 4-on-4 situation near the end of regulation, which in reality was a 5-on-4 situation as the Rangers pulled goalie Soetaert, Wily Huber, who scored the first goal for the Rangers also scored the last goal for them. The game was now tied at 6-6 and went to Overtime. For penalties, a total of seven minor penalties, two fighting majors, and two misconducts were doled out in the third period..
Mike Gartner scored the game winner at 3:30. He had whipped the puck through the slot from the right side to the left-wing boards, where Pivonka pounced on it. He then pivoted and made a perfect centering pass to Gartner, who had moved near the right post.
In a postgame interview, Capitals Head Coach Bryan Murray discussed his team.
“’We were flat, we were just standing around until the third period. ‘Then we started playing with some emotion and intensity.’”
Pivonka talked to the press about his assist.
“I didn’t know if he [Gartner] was there. I just passed it and hoped he was there.”
This was a game noted for milestones, as both Michael Pivonka and Yvon Corriveau each scored their first NHL goal. Mike Gartner also scored his milestone 300th assist which came on the goal by Pivonka.
The game itself was noted for penalties, where a total of 20 minor penalties were doled out, in addition to the two fighting penalties and the two misconduct penalties for a total of 70 penalty minutes.
This game did not give the Caps immediate momentum as they lost their next two games and struggled for much of October but they ultimately finished in second place in the Patrick Division. The Rangers finished their next game in a tie and ultimately were involved in seven Overtime games for the month of October alone. Their head coach, Ted Sator, was fired after nineteen games that season.
By Diane Doyle