Photo: John McDonnell The Washington Post
Unlike recent NHL seasons, which have started relatively late due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the 1997-98 NHL season was one that started relatively early on the calendar, as the Capitals played their first game of the season on October 1. The Capitals played their fourth game of the season on October 8th against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
Going into the game, the Capitals had three long-time NHL veterans who were within striking distance of the 1000 NHL points milestone: Adam Oates, Phil Housley, and Dale Hunter. The player closest to that hallowed milestone was Adam Oates, who needed just one point to reach the milestone.
At 4:07, Dale Hunter was penalized for interference which put the Islanders on the power play. Over a minute into the Islanders’ power play, Adam Oates scored a short-handed goal earning his 1000th NHL point. This was also Oates’ first goal of the season.
The Caps added to their lead just over two minutes later when Jaroslav Svejkovsky scored his second goal of the season, getting assists from Calle Johansson and Oates.
Oates scored his second goal of the game at 11:10, beating Salo with a backhanded shot, to give the Capitals a 3-o lead.
However, the Islanders struck back at 13:45. Michal Pivonka was penalized for tripping at 12:36. Robert Reichel scored for the Isles on the power play, making it 3-1 heading into the first intermission.
There was a fight at 4:35 between Capitals defenseman Brendan Witt and Islanders’ defenseman, Rich Pilon, father of Garrett Pilon, who is currently a Capitals’ prospect.
At 13:07, Richard Zednik took a hooking penalty, putting the Islanders on the power play. This time, Kenny Jonsson scored for the Islanders, getting assists from Brian Smolinski and Robert Reichel. The Islanders now closed the deficit to 3-2.
Early in the final frame Todd Bertuzzi earned a double minor for high sticking and Dennis Vaske earned a slashing penalty moments later, giving the Capitals an extended 5-on-3 power play. At 3:30, Oates scored his third goal of the game, getting assists from Juneau and Phil Housley. The Caps now led 4-2.
Calle Johansson was assessed with a holding penalty at 5:40 after all the Islanders’ penalties had expired. Just 15 seconds later, Ziggy Palffy scored on the power play, getting assists from Smolinski and Reichel. The Caps’ lead was cut to 4-3.
Craig Berube scored at 18:33, getting assists from Oates and Juneau. The Caps now led 5-3. Peter Bondra added an empty net goal at 19:27 to increase the Caps’ lead to 6-3. This was Bondra’s third goal of the season and it was unassisted. The Caps won 6-3 extending their season-opening winning streak to four games.
Oates ended up with a hat trick, with a short-handed goal, an even-strength goal, and a power-play goal. This was the seventh hat trick in his career. He also recorded two assists for a five-point night. The first goal was his 1000th NHL point. Oates became the 47th player in league history to score 1,000 career points.
In postgame interviews, New York Rangers defenseman, Bryan Berard, commented, “’I think that the slow start killed us. We came out sluggish, then we picked it up for two periods, but it was a little too late. As a defenseman, it’s tough. As soon as you turn around someone is right in your face. They are quick.”
Rangers then Head Coach, Rick Bowness gave his assessment, ”We battled back after being down and having a slow start. The game was in our grasp at one point. But we didn’t finish some of our chances — and we did have a few good ones — and then they started to play better again and took it away from us.”
The New York Times writeup of the game was written by Tarik El-Bashir who would eventually cover the Capitals for the Washington Post, NBC News, and currently covers the Caps for The Athletic.
The Capitals presented Oates with a solid silver hockey stick at a pregame ceremony honoring his 1,000th career point at their next home game, which took place on October 11 against the Islanders.
As the season passed, both Phil Housley and Date Hunter earned their 1000th NHL points as well. Neither had started their careers with the Caps but were important members of the team. Olaf Kolzig did not relinquish the starting goaltending job that season and remained the Caps’ primary goaltender through the 2007-08 season.
The Caps ultimately compiled a record of 40-30-12 and finished third in the Atlantic Division. However, in the playoffs, they went on to beat the Boston Bruins in the first round, the Ottawa Senators in the second round and the Buffalo Sabres in the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Cup Final was an anticlimax as they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
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That was a fun year. Phil Housley was fantastic overall for us. He got torched defensively in the Stanley Cup finals as I remember and Caps fans (myself included) kinda ran him outta town. He was amazing at skating the puck through traffic and entering the O zone. He created tons of offense for us.