On January 27, 1980, when a weary Capitals team took on the red hot New York Islanders at the Capital Centre, the results were surprising.
The Caps had a lot going against them heading into the contest. They had played the night before against Quebec, firing 40 shots against former Capitals goaltender Ron Low with only one goal to show for their efforts in a 1-1 tie.
A stomach bug had ripped through the locker room in the week prior, weakening everyone, including Ryan Walter, the team’s 21-year old captain.
“I’ve never thrown up so hard in my life,” Walter said of his illness after the game. “I felt as if I had torn my insides out. I couldn’t eat and I wasn’t able to sleep.”
Then there were the Islanders. For four consecutive years, they had totaled more than 100 points in the regular season without a Stanley Cup title. Winners of seven in a row heading into their game against the Caps, the Isles were a team on the verge of greatness.
Their top line of Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy was one of the most formidable in the league. And they had dominated the Caps during Washington’s first six years in the league, compiling a record of 18-1-3 in their previous 22 meetings.
When Bossy scored at 3:23 of the first period, it appeared that the Islanders would be on their way to another comfortable victory against the Capitals. But the Caps blitzed the Islanders in the second period in a way few teams have in NHL history.
Walter won the opening faceoff and passed to Mike Gartner, who skated down right wing and fired a shot past Islanders goaltender Billy Smith at 0:08 of the second period. At 0:30, Bengt Gustafsson deflected a point shot past Smith to give the Caps a 2-1 lead and a new league record for the fastest two scores at the start of a period. (Today, the record is held by the Chicago Blackhawks, who scored two goals in 21 seconds at the start of the second period against Minnesota on Nov. 5, 1983.)
With fans still on their feet, Paul Mulvey backhanded a goal past Smith at 0:58 to give the Caps a 3-1 lead.
“The way the second period started, by the time they realized what had happened, they were behind 3-1 and had to chase us the rest of the night,” Caps defenseman Pierre Bouchard told reporters. “That’s how they had trouble like they did.”
The Capitals added three more goals in the second period – two from Walter and one from Paul MacKinnon – to take a 6-1 lead. Gustafsson added another in the third period to complete a stunning 7-1 rout.
The Caps were just four points out of the playoffs after the win and would record another victory against the Islanders later in the season in their chase for their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But the Caps, at 27-40-13 (67 points), would fall two points shy of the Edmonton Oilers and would have to wait three more years before their first playoff berth in 1983.