LANDOVER -- The game was just 35 seconds old last night when Kelly Miller took a carom off the boards at mid-ice, cruised in on Trevor Kidd and deposited the puck into the net behind the Calgary goaltender.
This is known as a benefit from an unexpected source, pennies from heaven, a bonus, as it was just the fourth goal scored by the defensive forward and penalty-killing ace in 47 games.
Besides giving the Capitals a head start, something they've had trouble achieving in games over the first two-thirds of the season, it gave strong indication that the home team was on its game.
The early telltale signs weren't completely accurate, but they were sufficient to keep the Caps ahead just about all the way while winning for the fourth straight time at home, 3-2.
"We had a lot of jump in the first two periods," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld of his club's businesslike 3-1 lead after two periods. "But the trip [three games in four nights in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver] caught up with us. We had guys losing one-on-one battles in the third period who rarely lose such battles."
Then, too, the Flames finally went to what Schoenfeld described as a "high-risk offense" and, with the Capitals shy their strongest defenseman, Mark Tinordi, sidelined with a concussion, they tossed a pretty good scare into the home team.
"When they're coming at you like that, you need a rugged guy who's going to stand them up, clear people out from in front of the net and do the heavy work in the corners," said Schoenfeld. "The other guys did well but, yeah, we're anxious to get Mark back."
After Miller's score, the Flames got on the board two minutes later, Pavel Torgajev doing the honors. The Capitals apparently enjoyed the feeling of being ahead, because Joe Juneau put them that way again with his 10th score just 13 seconds after the Calgary goal.
The 2-1 lead, forged in the first 3:12, then stood until Michal Pivonka scored his 10th goal late in the second period.
Calgary defenseman Steve Chiasson, a guy with a sense of humor, no doubt, said the turning point in the game probably came when "Chiasson passed across the slot to Jones. It was the game-winning goal."
Translation: The pass was to Keith Jones of the Caps, who slipped the puck to Pivonka, who hammered it home from 20 feet.
The Caps then retired to their end of the ice, in effect setting up a strong counterattack by the Flames, who got a power-play goal out of Theoren Fleury (29) midway through the third period.
In 54 previous games, the Caps had been outscored by the opposition in the first period, 65-33, and had hit the first stop with a lead only eight times. Meanwhile, their record when trailing after 20 minutes leaves something to be desired: 5-18-2.
NOTES: When the Caps return home to meet Toronto on Friday night, Kelly Miller will be appearing in his 700th game for the team, leaving only Mike Gartner (758) and Rod Langway (726) ahead. . . . The Caps play in Detroit tomorrow night. The high-flying Red Wings won the only previous meeting here a month ago, 4-2.