As the '83-84 season dawned, the Caps sought more improvement in the regular season and a deeper playoff run with largely the same cast they put on the ice the season before.
With the initial hurdle of reaching the playoffs having been cleared in the spring of 1983, second year general manager David Poile set about making the Capitals better and aiming for a deeper run into the postseason tournament.
Poile made his first big move of the offseason on June 8 when he dealt the club’s first round pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft to Winnipeg in exchange for American-born right wing Dave Christian, a member of the fabled 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team.
|Dave Christian |
A month later, Poile made another big splash when he sent leading scorer and fan favorite Dennis Maruk to the Minnesota North Stars in exchange for a second rounder in the 1984 NHL Entry Draft.
Days before the start of the season, Poile dealt tough guy Torrie Robertson to the Hartford Whalers for left wing Greg C. Adams. The Caps and head coach Bryan Murray were then set for the October 6 season opener at Philadelphia, 4-1 loss to the Flyers.
The home opener was a sparsely attended (11,774) affair against the Caps’ longtime Long Island nemesis, the Islanders. The Caps dropped that one and the next four straight. Coming off the best season of its existence, Washington was suddenly 0-6-0 and had regressed to its previous incarnation as expansion fodder.
Poile picked up the phone and dialed up a future Hall of Fame defenseman. On October 18, Poile sent defenseman Brian Engblom and right wing Ken Houston to Los Angeles in exchange for Larry Murphy, then at the beginning of his fourth NHL season. The fourth player chosen overall in the 1980 NHL Entry draft, Murphy had averaged nearly 20 goals and 70 points per season over his first three NHL campaigns.
A five-game winning streak righted the ship and brought the Caps closer to .500. The Capitals returned to Washington to face Vancouver on November 4. Only 10,939 fans showed up for the Friday night tilt at the Capital Centre. Those who were in attendance witnessed Washington’s first-ever regular season overtime victory. Bengt Gustafsson netted his seventh goal of the season at 1:01 of the extra session to lift the Caps over the Canucks.
With a 3-1 win in Toronto on December 17 and a 5-0 whitewash of the Kings at the Capital Centre, Washington finally climbed the .500 mountain and got back to even-Steven at 16-16-2.
|Bengt Gustafsson |
The Capitals journeyed north on I-95 to Philadelphia for a January 8 date with the Flyers. The Caps scored seven unanswered goals on their way to a 7-1 victory. Bengt Gustafsson set a club record by scoring five goals against fellow Swede Pelle Lindbergh. Two of Gustafsson’s goals came on the power play and four were assisted by Mike Gartner. The convincing triumph over Philly lifted the Caps to .500 (20-20-3) once again.
It took 44 games, but the Caps finally made it to the other side of the .500 mountain with a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings on January 11. Washington had finally grabbed some momentum and was not about to let go. The Caps lost in Calgary on January 15 and forged a 2-2 tie with the Sabres in Buffalo on January 25, but those were the only two blemishes on Washington’s record over a 42-day span, the longest and best sustained period of hockey in the franchise’s 10-year history.
Washington went 16-1-1 during that stretch to climb to the upper reaches of the highly competitive Prince of Wales Conference standings. The Capitals outshot their opponents in 16 straight games during that stretch of hockey – shattering the old club record of nine – and outscored the opposition by a combined 90-32 over those 18 games. Washington scored more than three goals in 14 of those 18 games; it allowed more than three goals just once in the same period of time.
The Capitals netted at least one power play goal in 14 of the 18 games and scored multiple power play tallies in eight of the 18. The Caps went 23-for-81 (28.4 percent) on the power play over the 18-game stretch.
The team’s penalty killing unit was also on top of its game. Washington allowed a power play goal in only seven of the 18 games and never surrendered more than one in any single contest. The Caps successfully killed 60 of 67 (89.6 percent) man disadvantage situations over the 18 games and had a streak of 33 straight kills at one point.
There were several notable highlights during the 16-1-1 streak:
- Trailing the Penguins by a 2-1 score on the road in the third period, Washington got goals from Alan Haworth and Christian in the final three minutes of regulation to steal a win on Jan. 21.
- The Caps crushed Toronto and former teammate Mike Palmateer in Washington on Jan. 27, beating the Leafs 6-1. The Caps induced Palmateer into taking a pair of slashing minors and scored on one of the ensuing power plays. Gustafsson established a new career high by netting his 26th goal of the season.
- A night later, the two teams met again in Toronto. The Caps treated Palmateer even more rudely, beating him 8-0 behind Pat Riggin’s 24-save performance in the Washington nets. Craig Laughlin and Gaetan Duchesne each scored a pair of goals.
- Riggin authored a second straight shutout with a 2-0 whitewash of the Devils on Feb. 2.
- The Caps dropped the Canadiens 4-1 on Feb. 3 with Riggin pushing his shutout streak to a club record 203 minutes and 52 seconds.
- The Caps crushed Edmonton by a 9-2 score in a Sunday matinee contest on Feb. 5. Gartner
|Mike Gartner |
had two goals and two assists, tying and breaking Dennis Maruk’s all-time franchise record for career goals in the process. Washington scored six goals against Edmonton’s Grant Fuhr in the third period to blow it open. The Caps set a team record for fastest three goals (39 seconds) and fastest five goals (seven minutes, 33 seconds) in the game. A sellout crowd of 18,130 showed up despite the fact that superstar Wayne Gretzky was out of the lineup with a bruised shoulder, an injury that ended his consecutive games played streak at 362.
- The Caps rebounded from a 3-1 second period deficit to take a 6-3 decision from the Philadelphia Flyers before a packed house of 18,130 at the Cap Centre on Feb. 11.
- Riggin was named the NHL’s Player of the Week in consecutive weeks during the streak. The Washington goaltender captured league honors for the weeks ending Jan. 30 and Feb. 6. He later followed up with a third Player of the Week designation for the week ending Mar. 12 and was the only Capital to have earned the honor three times in a single season until Alex Ovechkin
was named the league's first star in three different weeks of the 2007-08 season.
The streak catapulted Washington firmly into the NHL playoff picture. The Capitals closed the regular season with a 4-1 victory over the Flyers on Apr. 1. The Caps finished at 48-27-5 and totaled a franchise record 101 points. Washington wound up three points behind the Islanders for the Patrick Division crown and joined the Isles, Boston (104 points) and Buffalo (103) as one of four Wales Conference teams to reach the century mark in points that season.
Washington allowed only 226 goals, the fewest in the NHL by 31 goals over Buffalo, the next closest club. It was also the fewest goals against -- by far -- ever allowed by a Washington club, eclipsing the previous mark by 57.
The Capitals faced Philadelphia in the first round of the playoffs. Washington quickly broomed the Flyers aside, sweeping the best-of-five series and outscoring its former nemesis 15-5 in the process.
For their Division Finals opponent, the Caps drew the four-time defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders, who were fresh off their 17th straight playoff series win, a grueling five-game battle against the rival Rangers. Washington downed the Islanders in the series opener, winning 3-2 with Craig Laughlin supplying the game-winner.
The Isles scored three goals in the first 9:49 to take a 3-0 lead in Game Two. Bengt Gustafsson scored twice for Washington and Mike Gartner tied it in the third, forcing overtime. With a win, Washington would take a 2-0 series lead back to the District. But New York’s Anders Kallur beat Riggin in overtime to even the series at 1-1.
New York then won three straight to oust the Caps from the playoffs.
The best season in franchise history meant some postseason hardware for the Capitals. Defenseman Rod Langway copped his second straight Norris Trophy and Doug Jarvis made away with the Selke Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL’s best defensive forward. Goaltenders Riggin and Jensen shared the Jennings Trophy, awarded to the club with the fewest goals against each season. And coach Bryan Murray won the Adams Trophy as the league’s best bench boss. Murray rallied his troops after an 0-7 start, guiding them to a franchise best 101-point season and their first-ever playoff series win.
There was a lot of optimism in the Caps’ camp even after the club’s playoff exit. Washington had established itself as one of the league’s stingiest defensive clubs and the Caps had gone 48-20-5 after a slow start. They also went 30-8-2 in the season’s second half and 13-3-1 in their last 17 games.