Hunter Does More Than End Game

His Pass to Galley Began the Rally

By Michael Wilbon

Washington Post Staff Writer

Sunday, April 17, 1988 ; Page D03

The last thing a hockey player is supposed to do is show any hint of fear or panic. But in the euphoria of the Washington Capitals locker room last night, captain Rod Langway let his guard down just a bit, perhaps still a little shocked at just how far from behind his team had come to beat Philadelphia in this seventh and deciding game.

"Let me honest about this; I'm not going to kid you," he began. "When it was 3-0, I thought we'd be blown out of the rink. Some guys were quiet, some were semi-scared. I'm sure some were semi-confident. You look at the young guys and you can't tell what they're thinking at a time like that. As a veteran, you know you're scared, but you try to look and act confident.

"At a time like that, you're looking for one thing to turn it around; something simple," he said. "It was a great play by {Dale} Hunter that got it turned around, and then it was just meant to be."

The great play Langway referred to wasn't the game-winning goal, which came nearly seven minutes into overtime, but a game-changing pass nearly seven minutes into the second period from Hunter to Gary Galley.

Hunter's pass perfectly set up Galley for the Capital's first goal, and helped eliminate that fear of being blown out that so many of the Capitals must have been feeling.

Even Coach Bryan Murray had said that the only way the team was going to come back from that three-goal deficit was that "someone was going to have to do something exceptional."

So, it was Hunter who started business and Hunter who finished it. And all the Capitals wanted to talk about was Hunter.

Nearly a year ago, the Capitals sought a rough, savvy, center-iceman who could beat you with a smash in the face or a heady pass. Enter Hunter, acquired from Quebec in a monster trade.

That move, on draft-day 1987, is what won last night's overtime game, according to the Capitals. "That's when we won this series," Murray said. "The Dale Hunter trade we made at the draft table; that's what won it for us. We felt if we got in a tough, physical series with a team like the Flyers he'd really come through."

A few moments later Langway was saying the same thing. "Hunts has cuts and stitches all over the place," Langway said. "His heart is bigger than his body and that's why we got him. It's something in the family {Hunter has two hockey-playing brothers} , just like the Sutters. You hate to play against him, but you love to play with him."

Especially last night. Hunter scored two goals and won several critical faceoffs. And of course, the most important thing he did was score the game winner, after taking Larry Murphy's pass.

The Capitals had blown enough scoring chances in the third period to win several games. And now, here was Murphy bearing down on Flyers goalkeeper Ron Hextall.

When reporters asked Hunter for his thoughts during the breakaway, he said: "Me breaking in is a lot different from Mike Bossy. I didn't know what I'd do. He {Hextall} is standing there and I'm waiting. He's got to do something before I can do something. Or at least that's what I'm figuring.

"But he didn't do anything, and I made a little deke because I just didn't see any room to shoot. Finally, he opened his legs a little and it was just enough room for me to put it in."

Hunter said it was the biggest goal of the career, but only because it was the most recent. Murphy, who started the play with the long pass, moved a little closer to the truth when he called it, "the biggest goal in the history of the franchise."

And to think the Capitals went through the first 20 minutes without being able to score when they were playing five against four. The Capitals failed to score on their first six power plays, which was part of the reason they were gravely concerned.

"It's always dangerous when you're in your own building," Murray explained, "and you get a couple of power plays but don't get one off. It really puts one in a jam. You know your players get concerned that they haven't do it. Then, they get a power play and score right away . . . "

After a measly four shots on goal the first period, the Capitals let loose. When asked if the strategy was simply to shoot the puck at Hextall, who was having trouble even seeing the puck, Mike Gartner said: "absolutely." Langway said the Capitals didn't want to give Hextall any early confidence by letting him stop long shots or fairly weak shots early.

As it turned out, there was no danger of that because there was nothing long about Hunter's deciding goal and nothing weak about the Capitals' comeback.