MILWAUKEE -- The Washington Capitals came to an unfamiliar city and discovered an old friend.
The Capitals' struggling power play produced two goals in the second period, both deflections by Dale Hunter, in a much-needed 4-2 victory over Detroit in an NHL neutral-site game before a crowd of 9,836 last night at the Bradley Center.
"Our power play hasn't been working that well for us the past six games," said Washington coach Terry Murray, whose team improved to 34-27-7.
"I was very pleased with our performance tonight. It's the difference in the game. You are going to get four or five chances a night, and you've got to cash in on them. We haven't been doing that lately."
Defenseman Kevin Hatcher scored what proved to be the winning goal midway through the third period. Assists on the play went to Mike Ridley and Todd Krygier, who worked a nifty give-and-go along the left side. Ridley circled behind the net and found Hatcher alone in the left faceoff circle.
The Capitals defenseman beat goalie Tim Cheveldae with a hard slap shot for his 27th goal.
"That was a great play," Murray said. "I thought Ridley was going to shoot, but he made a nice pass."
Washington protected its lead with conservative play and several key saves by goalie Don Beaupre, who faced 29 shots. Krygier sealed the victory with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
The talk in both dressing rooms centered on the Capitals' power play. Washington converted two of seven chances with the man advantage. Detroit was 0-for-5.
Detroit, which lost defenseman Paul Coffey to a pulled groin muscle in the second period, was playing the final night on a five-game trip.
"We looked a little sluggish," said Red Wings coach Bryan Murray, whose record against his brother slipped to 4-5. "Maybe it [the trip] caught up to us a little."
Detroit took a 1-0 lead early on a freakish goal in the first period. Yzerman dumped the puck along the boards on the left side. Beaupre skated behind his net to make the play, but the puck took a bizarre bounce off the boards and caromed in front of the net. Gerard Gallant was there to slam it home at 7:26.
"It wasn't a very good way to start the night," Beaupre said.
The Capitals took advantage of two penalties on Dallas Drake near the end of the first period. Drake, a fiery rookie, was whistled for charging Michal Pivonka at 18:01. Enraged by the call, he skated at referee Don Koharski and made a jabbing motion with his stick. Koharski assessed a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty and a 10-minute misconduct penalty.
Washington, which had squandered a five-on-three advantage earlier, tied the score when Hunter deflected a shot by Calle Johansson past Cheveldae at 1:03 of the second period.
"Dale always seems to come through when our backs are against the wall," Murray said. "That's where we are now. We are in the playoffs to make the playoffs."
Hunter added a second goal at 5:46 after an interference penalty on Bob Probert.
"It's good to see our power play going again," Hunter said.
"They did a good job," Cheveldae said. "The puck went to center ice and Johansson shot for Hunter's stick, which is a good play. The second one was a good tip-in by Hunter. He got it up, but I just about got it."
NOTES: Capitals D Paul Cavallini returned home to Toronto yesterday to be with his ailing father. D Jason Woolley, on a reconditioning assignment with the Skipjacks, was recalled and joined the Capitals in Milwaukee. . . . The Capitals finished with a 2-0 record in neutral-site games.
They beat Chicago, 4-1, Nov. 3 in Indianapolis. "t's a good experience," Terry Murray said. "It gives us a chance to see other cities and the fans a chance to see us. The fans were tremendous tonight, although most of them seemed to be rooting for Detroit."