LANDOVER -- When St. Louis defenseman Rick Zombo slammed his elbow into the face of Washington left wing Randy Burridge, it was the beginning of the end for the Blues, as the Capitals used the extended penalty to break a four-game losing streak with a 5-2 victory.
With a minute remaining on a previous interference penalty on Blues defenseman Bret Hedican, the Capitals wasted little time taking advantage of the five-on-three situation that presented itself at 15:49 of the third period.
Washington's Calle Johansson scored with 26 seconds left on the two-man advantage. Then, with 2:59 left on the extended five-minute elbowing penalty, Pat Peake put away his second goal of the season for a 4-2 Capitals lead with 6:12 to play.
Goalie Rick Tabaracci, who made 24 saves, came up big in the closing minutes to maintain the two-goal advantage and then Mike Ridley added more breathing room with 1:03 to go when he shot and scored into an open net.
"We just played a good team game from the start," said Ridley, who collected three assists to go with his goal. "St. Louis is one of the better teams in the league and every night we go out there it seems we have to prove to ourselves that we can beat the good teams."
"This is a big relief for our power-play guys," said Tabaracci, who saw his teammates score three times on the power play. "We were all just so steady tonight. It was a big, big victory, and if we can win [Friday], it will be huge.
"We get Dale [Hunter] back and that means we get back the biggest, the best pain in the butt in the league. He's an agitator and a leader and we can use both."
Last night, there was plenty of agitation without Hunter. When Zombo elbowed Burridge on the left side on his face and left him flat on the ice near the St. Louis blue line, it gave Washington the opportunity to break the 2-2 tie it had forged in the second period.
But while the officials were calming the other players and Capitals trainer Stan Wong was administering to Burridge on the ice, a replay of the incident was shown on the Telscreen.
The replay set off boos from the crowd of 14,321 assembled at the USAir Arena. It also set off St. Louis general manager Ronald Caron, who screamed obscenities at press box statisticians, protesting the showing of the replay.
After the game, Caron, saying he had no time to answer questions, lodged his complaints to Bryan Lewis, the NHL director of officiating.
Lewis said the league has a rule that allows the showing of a replay of anything shown previously, except for controversial incidents.
Controversial incidents generally refer to goal scoring, not to penalty situations. But Lewis said the league will review last night's replay incident "and establish a guideline for this kind of situation" in the future.
"I was just trying to kill the penalty," said Zombo. "What did it look like on the replay?"
Later, after hearing what it looked like, Zombo clammed up.
"I have nothing to say. Nothing," he said.
Burridge also had little to say.
"Yeah, I took one for the team," he said. "But it wasn't that big a deal. I wasn't out cold, I played the rest of the game."
But, he added as he headed for the trainers' room, "They can find someone else to take one next game."
NOTES: The Capitals' game at the New York Islanders on Tuesday, marking Dale Hunter's return to the scene of his late hit on Islanders F Pierre Turgeon, will be televised by ESPN. . . . D Enrico Ciccone played in his first game since Nov. 16 last night. . . . C Mike Ridley, currently leading the Capitals in points, is one goal away from breaking a second-place tie with Bengt Gustafsson (197) on Washington's all-time goal-scoring list. Only Mike Gartner (397) has more.
St. Louis .. 0 .. 2 .. 0 .. -- .. 2
Washington.. 1 .. 1 .. 3 .. -- .. 5