Capitals’ Effort in Ottawa Just Short of History

The Washington Capitals nearly missed out on a bit of team history Monday night in Ottawa. While T.J. Oshie recorded his second hat trick in nine regular-season games (dating back to last season’s three-goal effort at Madison Square Garden) and Alex Ovechkin just missed getting three goals of his own in a wild 7-5 win over the Ottawa Senators after being able to take advantage of an empty net late.

The Capitals have had two of their players record hat tricks in a single game just once in their history, nearly 40 years ago in a historic win over the Philadelphia Flyers.

Of course, the Senators had a hat trick of their own, as Drake Batherton notched one for Ottawa, leaving the game just one Ovechkin goal shy of another very rare feat, which also has happened just once in club history with three players having hat tricks in the same game involving the Capitals – and a game which still stands in the team’s record books over four decades later.

The two games both happened in the calendar year 1981 when the Capitals still looked for their first-ever playoff berth in a 21-team league where 16 teams qualified. While it was a different brand of hockey with goals aplenty, it also was a time before Washington had earned much respectability around the NHL – but also was just before the dawn of a new age for the Capitals.

Maruk, Tookey Power Caps to First Home Win vs. Flyers in 1981

While the 1970s was a very good decade for the Flyers, the expansion-era Capitals didn’t fare as nearly well, setting futility marks in the franchise’s first years, which included multiple losing streaks against the NHL’s powerhouses of the era.

One of those teams Washington struggled with was their rivals to the north in Philadelphia, as the Caps did not record a win over the Broad Street Bullies from their first meeting in November 1974 until finally earning two points in a 6-0 win at the Spectrum just four days before Christmas in 1980. 

Dennis Maruk
Dennis Maruk was one of the Capitals’ first scoring stars.

Despite winning in South Philadelphia, entering the first game of a home-and-home on Nov. 21, 1981, the Capitals had lost 16 straight at the Capital Centre to the Flyers, never earning two points against their rivals on home ice – games which regularly featured fans of the visitors busing down to Landover.

Washington had made a coaching change just three weeks before the matchup. After a disastrous 1-12-0 start to the season, Gary Green, coaching in the NHL at just age 28, was let go, and Bryan Murray, who was coaching the Capitals’ farm club, the Hershey Bears, was promoted to the NHL club in hopes of salvaging the season.

The Capitals went 2-2-2 in the first games following the coaching change, but still, the challenge of one of the top teams in the NHL awaited.

The Caps finally broke the home losing skid in grand style, recording double-digit goals for the first time in franchise history with a 10-4 win, with Dennis Maruk and Tim Tookey both earning hat tricks. It was the first – and still, only – time two Washington players have recorded hat tricks in the same contest.

The Washington scoring barrage started when Maruk scored just 37 seconds into the game – four seconds into a power play chance – then Greg Theberge made it 2-0 less than two minutes later. Tookey scored his first goal of the night just over a minute later, making the score 3-0 less than four minutes into the game.

The Capitals led 4-0 after 20 minutes, and after Reggie Leach put the Flyers on the board, Washington added four more in short order. In just over four minutes of play, Tookey scored twice for the only NHL hat trick of his career, and Darren Veitch and Maruk added goals for an 8-1 Washington lead before the game even reached the halfway point.

Maruk finished his hat trick just 17 seconds into the third, and Washington was on its way to a 10-4 win for their first-ever win over Philadelphia in Landover.

“Some of these guys have been here a long time and experienced the rest of it,” Capitals coach Bryan Murray told The Washington Post (“Capitals Put End to Flyer Hex at Centre, 10-4”, Washington Post, 11/22/81). “I want them to enjoy this. I want them to be loose and be happy and appreciate what happened here tonight.”

Bryan Murray, former Washington Capitals coach (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

“It makes everybody feel good,” Maruk told the Post. “They’re hurting, but they’re a good hockey club and they didn’t quit. We struck early with a couple of power-play goals and [Dave Parro] made some big saves and they couldn’t come back.

The next evening in the Spectrum, Washington completed the home-and-home sweep with a 3-2 win in which Maruk recorded a short-handed goal, and Chris Valentine broke a third-period tie for the win. Maruk set a Capitals record that season with 60 goals – a record that lasted until Ovechkin’s 2007-08 season – which is still the second-most goals a Washington player has notched in a single campaign despite Ovechkin’s production.

And while the 1981-82 Capitals didn’t make the playoffs, mainly due to the terrible start, Murray and Washington became a team that Patrick Division foes had to reckon with for the rest of the decade.

Stastnys, Richard Record Hat Trick of Three-Goal Games

Nine months before the Capitals finally ended the losing skid against the Flyers, Washington and the Quebec Nordiques recorded 18 combined goals in a wild 11-7 game – a game which holds the Capitals franchise record for combined goals in one game.

It is also the only time three hat tricks have been recorded in a single game in Capitals history. Unfortunately for Washington, all three were members of the visiting team wearing the Nordiques’ fleur-de-lis on their uniforms.

Peter Stastny of the Quebec Nordiques
Peter Stastny was one of three Nordiques to notch a hat trick against Washington on Feb. 22, 1981. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios/Getty Images)

Peter Stastny, his brother Anton, and Jacques Richard all scored three goals for Quebec in one of the strangest games in Caps history.

The Stastny brothers, who defected the previous summer to North America from Czechoslovakia, came into the Feb. 22, 1981 contest in Landover on a hot streak. Both brothers had a hat trick in the Nordiques’ previous game two nights earlier in Vancouver. Both were having terrific rookie years for the Nordiques, and while Peter won that year’s Calder Trophy for top rookie, his brother also finished 10th in the voting. 

The brothers had a goal for the visitors in the first period against Washington that evening as well, giving the Nordiques a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

The second period is where the game really became a score-fest. Washington tied the game at 2-2 less than two minutes into the second on a goal by Rick Green, but Anton untied it again less than 40 seconds later. Ryan Walter brought the Caps even just over six minutes into the frame, but Peter put Quebec back up 4-3 just 19 ticks after that.

Dale Hunter, Washington Capitals. (hockey media/Flickr)

Richard scored his first of the night at the 13:27 mark of the period, with an assist going to Quebec rookie Dale Hunter. Maruk brought the Caps back within one 1:21 after that, Peter completed his second hat trick in two games with 1:09 left in the period for a 6-4 Quebec lead. Pierre Lacroix added another before the frame ended, giving the visitors a 7-4 lead after two.

The Nordiques then broke the game open in the third. Anton completed his hat trick 34 seconds into the third, chasing Washington’s starting netminder Mike Palmateer. His replacement, Wayne Stephenson, didn’t fare much better, yielding a pair of goals in the next 59 seconds, both to Richard, completing his hat trick and making the count 10-4 Quebec. 

Green and Bengt Gustafsson made the game cosmetically closer with three goals in a row and the Caps made a push to inch closer, but Peter capped the evening with his fourth goal of the night with just five seconds left in regulation for a wild 11-7 win.

“When you get 11 goals scored on you, you have to ask about the defensive concentration of everybody on the ice,” Green told the Washington Post after the game (“Nordiques, 2 Stastnys Hat Trick Caps, 11-7,” Washington Post, 02/23/81). “We’re all in the boat together and if that didn’t tell us something out there tonight, I don’t know how many more clues we need on what to do as a team.”

The one positive for Washington is the loss bumped out of the record books the previous marker for most goals combined – a 14-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in 1975, arguably one of the team’s worst games ever played.

However, the Nordiques didn’t do Washington any favors later that season, falling to the Toronto Maple Leafs in their final game of the regular season – which prevented Washington from earning its first-ever playoff spot.

History Narrowly Missed in Ottawa

Of course, the style of play today is much different than the high-scoring 1980s, but considering the high profile scorers the team has employed in the last 40 years since, from Mike Gartner to Bobby Carpenter to Peter Bondra to Jaromir Jagr to Ovechkin, the team still hadn’t had either of those feats since those two games just nine moths apart 40 years ago.

Related: Alex Ovechkin’s Fast Start Keeps Him Moving Up Goal-Scoring Ladder

But Monday’s 7-5 win for Washington wasn’t quite the same tempo as those games, it was narrowly a memorable piece of franchise history.

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