On January 23, 1976, the Washington Capitals hung a 7-5 loss on the New York Rangers before 9,915 fans at the Capital Centre. The Capital victory ended a 12-game losing streak and a 25-game winless streak, the longest on franchise history. The win was also the first of Tom McVie's NHL coaching career. After taking over for Milt Schimdt in late December, McVie had endured 11 straight losses behind the Washington bench.
Jean Lemieux - acquired from Atlanta a day earlier in a deal that sent Caps' captain Bill Clement to the Flames - scored his first goal as a Capital on his first shot as a Capital. Lemieux's goal came at 3:22 on 4-on-3 power play and it gave the Capitals a 1-0 lead. Ron Lalonde beat New York netminder Dunc Wilson at 15:16 of the first to extend the Capital lead to 2-0 and close out the first period scoring. Washington outshot New York by a convincing 11-3 margin in the first period.
The teams played scoreless hockey through the first half of the second period before Nelson Pyatt scored at 10:46 to give the Caps a 3-0 bulge. But nothing comes easy for a team that has not won in 25 games and that proved to be the case for the Caps. New York awoke when Steve Vickers scored less than a minute after Pyatt's tally and it pulled to within a goal of the Caps on Rick Middleton's goal at 14:01. When Wayne Dillon drilled one past Washington's Ron Low at 16:50 of the middle frame, the game was tied and that's how the second period concluded. The Rangers outshot the Caps 10-7 in the second period.
New York scored its fourth unanswered goal when Phil Esposito tallied at 4:05 of the final period. Esposito's goal was his 1,220th career point, lifting him past Jean Beliveau into fourth place on the NHL's all-time list behind Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio and Stan Mikita. Washington finally answered back at 11:06 when Bob Sirois scored to tie the contest at 4-4. At 12:59, Tony White scored to put the Caps back on top. Ace Bailey scored for Washington at 16:58 to give the Caps a 6-4 lead. The Rangers weren't done, though; Middleton scored his second of the night with 1:54 remaining. With only 36 second left, Bailey dumped one into an empty net to allow the Caps to skate off with a 7-5 win, their first triumph in 57 days. The Caps outshot New York 14-10 in the third and 32-23 on the season.
Washington went 0-22-3 over the course of its winless string. Five of the losses were shutouts and the Caps were outscored by a total of 140-58 over the duration of the streak. In 17 of the 25 games, the Capitals allowed more than four goals; Washington scored more than four just twice.