EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Longtime hockey observers say hockey isn't as it used to be, that the NHL has cleaned itself up. Fighting is a no-no and, most nights, a thing of the past.
The Devils eventually won, 3-1, but not before most everyone on the ice was roughed, slashed, high sticked punched out or, in the case of Capital Dale Hunter, treated like a rag doll and slammed repeatedly to the ice by the Devils' Bill Guerin.
Of course, this is to be expected when these two meet. Both teams play the same, hard-hitting, close defensive style that causes tempers to flare.
"We had to win this game," said New Jersey defenseman Scott Stevens. "If we had lost, we'd be five points behind them in the standings. Now we're one. They wanted it too, you could tell. But we did everything we had to win it."
As far as the scoring went, the Devils' Bobby Holik scored first, and then New Jersey's Stephane Richer and the Caps' Peter Bondra exchanged short-handed goals. A power-play goal by Steve Thomas completed the scoring in the third period.
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur finished with 19 saves and got an assist when he set up Richer for a one-on-one on Olie Kolzig with a brilliant outlet pass. The win improved Brodeur's lifetime record against the Capitals to 7-0-1.
"Came out a little slow in the first period and they took advantage of it," said Kolzig, who made 33 saves. "We've just got to realize when we play 60 minutes of hockey we're a real tough team to beat."
The Capitals have not beaten the Devils since April 1, 1994 and are winless in their last six meetings, including two 3-1 losses this season.
"We didn't beat them last year and we're getting tired of it," said Capitals defenseman Mark Tinordi. "We've got to build this into a rivalry. We've got to find a way to beat them, be physical and go at them from the opening faceoff. They jumped on us 2-0 and it cost us the game. If we're going anywhere in this league, we have to beat them."
"This is a division game and it's a big game," said Washington left wing Keith Jones. "They won the Stanley Cup last year and we want to prove ourselves worthy of winning it this year. Everyone's shooting for them and it's a huge game for us."
Opponent: Buffalo Sabres
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
TV/Radio: HTS/WTEM (570 AM)
Outlook: The Sabres (19-23-3) beat Hartford, 4-2, Wednesday. Their previous meeting with Washington, in Buffalo on Dec. 8, ended in a 2-2 tie. Caps C Mike Eagles (broken finger) is out, and C Joe Juneau (flu) is possible. Buffalo RW Donald Audette (knee surgery), D Richard Smehlik (knee), G Andrei Trefilov (knee) are out; D Mike Wilson (concussion) is possible.