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The Way Back Machine: Capitals Brawl Flyers

by Jeffrey Weinstein / Washington Capitals
Hey that Broad Street Bullies image was dead years ago…I mean we’ll fight if it’s necessary, but we’ve got a good, all-around hockey team. - Philadelphia forward Bobby Clarke, Dec. 19, 1980 prior to the game
It was not a game for the faint of heart when the Washington Capitals met the Philadelphia Flyers at The Spectrum on Dec. 21, 1980. The Caps had just about had enough of the Flyers, a team it had yet to beat in 25 games (0-19-6). To add even more insult, the Flyers had come into the Capital Centre the previous night and erased an early 2-0 Caps lead with five straight goals to go on to a 5-2 victory.

It was not just that the Flyers won, it was how they won, bullying their way through opponents with a mix of intimidation and skill. Entering the home-and-home series with Washington, they led the NHL with 1,083 penalty minutes through 33 games (put into perspective, the 2008-09 Capitals had 1,021 penalty minutes the entire season). They also had the league’s best record at 22-6-5.

The Flyers’ success made The Spectrum one of the most difficult road venues in the league. Philadelphia brought a 16-game home unbeaten streak into the contest, making the task even more daunting for the visiting Caps.

So how did the Capitals buck history with a 6-0 romp against the Flyers?

For starters, the Caps received outstanding play in net from goaltender Mike Palmateer, acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs during the summer of 1980. While with the Maple Leafs, Palmateer was the only goaltender to shut out the Flyers at The Spectrum during the 1979-80 season. On this night, Palmateer was equally spectacular. With the game still in the balance, Palmateer made 14 saves on 14 shots in the first seven minutes of the contest to keep the Flyers off the board. He continued his solid play the rest of the night, stopping all 44 Philadelphia shots for the shutout.

“You’ve got to get psyched up against Philly, the best team in the league, or you can’t beat them.” Palmateer said after the game. “But you can’t do it by yourself. The guys played a whale of a game out there.”

The tone was set early that the Caps would not be bullied around by Flyers this time. Just 19 seconds into the game, a full-out brawl broke out after an initial fight between the Capitals’ Jim McTaggart and the Flyers’ Ken Linseman. All five players on the ice for both teams were sent to the penalty box.

(It was) a game marred by more cheap shots that the D.C. Armory tough guy competition. - Steve Novak, The Journal Messenger
The fighting and rough play continued throughout the game, as 344 penalty minutes (the most ever in a Caps game), including 15 game misconducts, were handed out by referee Dave Newell. For the Capitals, brawling served a purpose. When the Caps’ Archie Henderson, in his NHL debut, took on noted Flyers tough guy Behn Wilson twice in the first period, it provided a boost that would carry the team through the rest of the game.

“Wilson is the toughest guy in the league and I’ve never seen him lose a fight, but Archie took him on and held his own,” said Caps defenseman Bob Kelly. “That has to give everybody a lift. In the long range, this will help the team, knowing we walked in here and did a hell of a job.”

By evening’s end, Guy Charron, perhaps the classiest player the Caps have ever had, managed to retain his left ear only because of a skillful job of stitching by trainer Gump Embro, while rookie defenseman Darren Veitch retained his nose through the efforts of the same man. - Russ White, The Washington Star
Solid goaltending and physical play paved the way for the Caps offense to succeed. Dennis Maruk scored a power-play goal at 14:35 of the first period as the Caps escaped the period with a 1-0 lead despite being outshot 21-10. Yvon Labre scored one of his 14 career NHL goals in the second period, and Jean Pronovost scored at the end of the second and again in the first minute of the third period to give the Caps a big 4-0 lead.

After two more goals and two more brawls, the Caps would go on to win one of their most significant games in early franchise history.

“It was not a classic,” Pronovost said after the game. “Yet man sometimes must stand up and be counted. Tonight, we as men, as hockey players, stood up, and we were counted.”

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