Capitals’ Top Penalty-Minute Moments

While Wednesday’s game between the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers was a wild game by today’s NHL standards with both teams combining for 100 penalty minutes in the first period — including six fighting majors for the Caps, half of what the team accumulated in 52 games this season, per — it was nothing compared to some of the record-setting penalty-minute nights in franchise history.

Here’s a look back at some of the nights in Capitals history where the scoresheet was filled with infractions and a bygone era with the franchise that probably won’t ever be broken.

Capitals at Flyers, Dec. 21, 1980: 359 Penalty Minutes Combined

This game was significant for the early versions of the Capitals, as it was the first time the franchise had ever beaten the Flyers in Philadelphia. Washington had gone 0-12-0 at the home of the Broad Street Bullies from their expansion team in 1974 until the 1980-81 season. 

But Washington was able to finally earn its first win in December 1980 with a 6-0 decision in a game that featured 63 penalties for 359 PIMs, with 184 of those coming in the first period alone.

Just 19 seconds in, the Flyers’ Ken Linesman fought Washington’s Jim McTaggart, and every other skater on the ice was assessed a 10-minute misconduct for not leaving the area of the altercation. That alone counted for 104 minutes in penalties.

Philadelphia’s Mel Bridgman and Washington’s Yvon Labre swung sticks at each other at the 3:05 mark, earning seven minutes apiece. Just 58 seconds later, the Flyers’ Behn Wilson got the best of the Capitals’ Archie Henderson — a notable minor-league enforcer who was freshly called up from the Hershey Bears — in a bout described by the Wilmington (Del.) Morning News as “clear-cut a decision than anything Don King has promoted lately.”

Wilson and Henderson tangled again before the period was out, and when the dust had settled after 20 minutes, there were 184 penalty minutes on the scoresheet.

Dennis Maruk, who opened the scoring in the period for the Caps, said standing up to the Flyers helped earn the win.

Dennis Maruk
Dennis Maruk’s Topps card from the 1980-81 NHL season.

“They’re a physical team,” he told the Morning News. “We’re a physical team. It’s encouraging tonight that we stood up to ‘em.”

Bob Kelly, who played with the Flyers for years before joining the Caps, told the paper, “We’re standing together. That kind of stuff pulled us back together.”

“If you want to beat the Flyers, you have to play like the Flyers,” Jean Pronovost told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You have to stick together. You have to give that to them.”

“We stuck up for each other and played like a team,” Caps coach Gary Green said, according to AP. 

The game still stands as the most penalty minutes for any Capitals game even over 40 years later — regular season and playoffs. And while that 1980-81 team didn’t quite qualify for the playoffs — they lost on out on the last night of the season as the Quebec Nordiques got in; it did show a clear change from the hapless expansion Capitals to a team that was very competitive in the decade.

Capitals at Devils, April 22, 1988, Game 3, Patrick Division Final: 231 Penalty Minutes 

The Capitals and New Jersey Devils met in the 1988 Patrick Division Finals after delivering upsets in the first round, as the Caps rallied from 3-1 down to oust Philadelphia on Dale Hunter’s overtime goal in Game 7, while the Devils snuck into the postseason on the last day of the regular season with an overtime win at Chicago Stadium, then shocked the Islanders in the first round in six games.

Jim Schoenfeld’s Devils looked to be rough and physical with the Caps, and it worked.

Rod Langway was injured by Pat Verbeek in the third period of a Washington Game 1 win in Landover, then the series began to take a very ugly turn. The two teams combined for 162 penalty minutes in Game 2, a Capitals franchise record for playoff penalty minutes in one game at home for both Washington and their opponent, as New Jersey squared the series. But even after an ugly Game 2, the two teams turned it up as the series shifted to the Meadowlands for Game 3. 

Rod Langway Capitals
Rod Langway was injured in Game 1 with a cut on the back of the leg from Pat Verbeek. (Photo by Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images)

While the game is better known in the league history books for the Devils’ Patrik Sundstrom recording eight points in one game (a Stanley Cup record which has since been tied by Mario Lemieux), it also had an NHL-record 62 penalties, totaling 231 penalty minutes, a total which still stands as the Capitals record for minutes in a playoff game (123) and for an opponent in a playoff game (108). 

Minus the defensive stalwart Langway, the Capitals struggled to slow the Devils’ attack, allowing 10 goals total, and the frustration showed as the Devils got a 2-0 lead late in the first and never trailed, although the Capitals, at times, threatened to come back. The defensive core was further depleted as the game progressed due to ejections and penalties, and at one point, two forwards had to play defense with just one defenseman available on the bench.

The game took 3 1/2 hours to finish despite not going to overtime, as the Devils looked to slow down Washington. And as the Capitals’ lousy play continued as the game progressed, it led to chippy play.

While Devils lost Anders Carlsson and Kirk Muller to injuries in the contest, New Jersey racked up the goals, and the third period boiled over into a slugfest that saw 145 penalty minutes in the frame.

Just under five minutes into the period and New Jersey up 8-4, the Devils’ David Maley was injured by a Kevin Hatcher elbow along the boards near the Washington bench, and New Jersey’s Ken Daneyko went after Hatcher. After Maley got up off the ice, he skated down the ice to go after Hatcher.

Washington’s Scott Stevens got involved, and then all 10 skaters on the ice joined the scrum, and eventually, he was given a game misconduct for third man in. The scene also featured Stevens skating over to the Devils’ bench to yell at Schoenfeld, as well as Maley pointing at Stevens in the penalty box and daring him to come and fight him again. Stevens opened the door, and as a result, was also ejected from the contest.

Dale Hunter earned 24 minutes on his own at the halfway mark of the third after a slashing call, then added an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a game and gross misconduct after reaching the penalty box for the original minor. 

After the Devils scored their 10th goal, another scrum ensued with four more misconducts and roughing minors — and left Washington having to use forwards Dave Christian and Bengt Gustafsson on defense with just one blueliner available. 

Washington finished the game with just 13 skaters and the Devils with 12.

“If the referees want football on ice, things will continue to go the way they’ve been going,” Mike Gartner told the Baltimore Sun.

The Caps went on to rebound and win the next game to square the series, though they eventually fell to the Devils in seven games. But the surreal scene remains a Capitals playoff record.

WATCH: 1st Period | 2nd Period | 3rd Period

Capitals vs. Flyers, Feb. 10, 1991: 304 Penalty Minutes

While the rest of this list took place on the road, the record for penalty minutes in a home game was set in 1991 in Landover when the Flyers came to town for a Sunday afternoon contest.

Washington had toughened its lineup by adding some muscle with John Kordic and Ken Sabourin in trades in early 1991 as the Caps looked to try to make it back to the playoffs. And along with incumbent Alan May, the Capitals were a tough team for teams to play against. 

When the Flyers made the trek down I-95, the two rivals racked up 304 penalty minutes, which is still the franchise record for combined penalty minutes in a home game for Washington.

May and Flyers enforcer Craig Berube tussled just two minutes into the contest. A few minutes later, Kordic and Philadelphia’s Terry Carkner got into a scrap, and the chippy game was on. While the first two periods were filled with misconducts, fights and penalties, it was nothing like the third period.

Just over five minutes into the period, Hunter elbowed the Flyers’ Gord Murphy behind the Philadelphia net, leaving the defenseman on the ice, which incensed Flyers coach Paul Holmgren. Holmgren grabbed a stick and swung it at the glass divider with the Washington bench, then onto the door of the Flyers’ bench. May went over and had some words with Holmgren, and then Scott Mellanby went over to fight the Capitals’ enforcer.

Then, 136 of those minutes came with 7:56 to go, as all 12 skaters got involved in a battle royale after Berube ran Capitals goaltender Don Beaupre into the boards, with even former Washington goaltender Pete Peeters getting involved in the fight. Holmgren got into a shouting match with Caps coach Terry Murray, and Keith Acton swung his stick at Sabourin. Even Rick Tocchet — who was up in the press box in the corner of the arena as an injured scratch — nearly got into an altercation with a fan after the scrum.

In total, 11 players were ejected from the contest, and the game officially shattered the Capital Centre’s old record of 240 set back in 1982 between the two clubs.

“It’s one of those things that builds up in a rivalry like ours over the years,” Murray told the Baltimore Sun. “The Flyers are close to us, and a lot of their fans make the trip here. We’re both Patrick Division teams and we’re battling for a playoff spot.

May, Nordic and Iafrate ended the game with 22 penalty minutes apiece, and Sabourin and Nick Kypreos had 17 apiece. 

Washington ended the game with a 5-2 win, but lost Hunter to a four-game suspension for the elbow to Murphy, while Sabourin remains with the team as its radio color commentator to this day, sadly, Kordic’s time was short-lived with substance abuse problems that eventually caused his death in 1992.

WATCH: 1st Period | 2nd Period | 3rd Period (Partial)

Capitals at Bruins, Nov. 21, 1998: 264 Penalty Minutes in One Period

Following a bitter first-round playoff series the previous spring that saw the Caps move past the Boston Bruins in six games, the two teams renewed acquaintances for the first time in the 1998-99 season on Nov. 21 in Boston. The opening frame was a doozy, with the Bruins looking to avenge the playoff loss, with two teams recording 264 combined penalty minutes, still the Capitals franchise record for one period.

The game started out innocently enough as Boston grabbed a 2-0 lead, but a sequence at the 11:42 mark delivered a jaw-dropping 238 minutes in penalties, with all 12 skaters — including both goaltenders — being ejected from the contest.

The play started off with now-Washington enforcer Berube exchanging slashes with Boston’s Don Sweeney and eventually tangling up in front of the Bruins net, which attracted the other skaters into a scrum piled on the end boards behind the goal. 

Once that pile started to break up, Boston’s Ken Belanger went after Hunter, and then Washington’s Ken Klee tried to stop Belanger with the Bruins’ Peter Ferraro trying to hold him back.

The linesman started to bring Belanger to the penalty box, but Bruins goaltender Byron Dafoe — a former Capital — went after Hunter to equalize the number, causing Washington’s Olaf Kolzig to skate down from his crease to tangle with Belanger, who hadn’t reached the box despite the official trying to get him there. 

When a teammate skated in to rescue Kolzig from Belanger, Dafoe skated over to grab his former best man and teammate along the boards.

“It’s tough fighting your best friend,” Kolzig told the AP. “You can joke about it all you want but when you’re out there it’s tough to throw a punch at him.”

The two netminders wrestled as the scene unfolded at the Fleet Center, with Mark Tinordi and Ken Baumgartner then battling in out. After that, Berube took a shot at Sweeney, and Grant Ledyard and Sweeney jumped atop the enforcer.  

In what proved to be a four-minute-long brawl resulted in all 12 players on the ice getting ejected and racking up over 200 penalty minutes.

St. Louis Blues' head coach Craig Berube
St. Louis Blues’ head coach Craig Berube reacts on the bench. (AP Photo/Josie Lepe)

Boston general manager Harry Sinden wasn’t too pleased all 12 players on the ice were tossed out.

“What if it happened again?” he told the Boston Globe. “We’ve got over 17,000 people here. ‘Now the game is everybody go home; get out of here because we have no players? Jesus Christ, is there common sense involved here or what?”

As for the rest of the game, it wasn’t quite as eventful in terms of the scoresheet, as after the first period, there were just three minor penalties called the rest of the way — perhaps because neither team had players to spare. Washington rallied from 4-2 down in the third period to force overtime, but former Capital Jason Allison ended the bizarre game with an overtime tally.

That Capitals team didn’t quite live up to the progress of the previous year, but the Bruins game was a bizarre highlight for the season.

So while Wednesday’s game at Madison Square Garden was one of the more bizarre scenes in recent memory, it pales to some of the games of the franchise’s past in the rougher era of play. Historically, Washington has seen some penalty-filled games and team records that probably never will be broken.