With the NHL season on pause due to the coronavirus, we’re digging into the archives for a look back at some great moments in Capitals history.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll present a series of ‘This Date in Capitals History’ features.
We continue with March 28:
March 28, 1975: After falling short in their first 37 attempts, the expansion Washington Capitals finally earned the first road win in franchise history- a 5-3 triumph over the California Golden Seals at the Cow Palace in Oakland.
Nelson Pyatt scored twice in the third period, including the game-winning goal, and Ron Low made 17 saves as the Capitals snapped a 17-game losing streak and a League-record 37-game road losing streak.
The Capitals held a spontaneous celebration after the win, taking a garbage can from the visitor’s dressing room and parading it around the rink. This would later become known as the ‘Stanley Can’ celebration.
More details on the Capitals’ elusive road win can be found in the book excerpt below from ‘100 Things Capitals Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die‘
No matter if it was against Buffalo, Toronto or Vancouver, Jim Anderson couldn’t get that elusive win. Red Sullivan tried in Chicago, Kansas City and St. Louis but also to no avail.
The first two head coaches for the expansion Capitals during a forgetful 1974-75 season and not a single road win between them.
Anderson went 0-for-28 on the road with eight defeats coming by at least six goals. Sullivan lost all seven of his road games, including three by six or more goals.
On December 14, 1974, the Capitals lost 12-1 in Boston under Anderson. Three months and one day later, they lost 12-1 in Pittsburgh under Sullivan.
That was the final road game for Sullivan, who resigned after two more home defeats dropped his overall record to 2-16-0.
Capitals general manager Milt Schmidt took over behind the bench, with the former Bruins captain, coach and GM returning to the Boston Garden on March 22, 1975. The Bruins welcomed Schmidt back to Beantown with an 8-2 win. Washington’s road losing streak hit 36.
The Capitals were now three coaches into the season and still searching for road win number one.
After falling 5-0 at home the next night to the Atlanta Flames, the Capitals embarked on a two-game California road trip. With only four road games remaining, including one final visit to the Montreal Forum, the Capitals faced the real possibility of going oh-for-the-road in their maiden season.
A 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Great Western Forum on March 26, brought the road losing skid to 37. It was also Washington’s NHL-record 17th consecutive defeat overall.
“It was a long year, that first year,” said Ron Lalonde. “There were things we experienced that I don’t think any other NHL team has ever had to go through.”
Finally, on March 28, 1975, the Capitals had their opportunity at the Oakland Coliseum. Facing a California Seals team that the Capitals had beaten at home in November, Washington took an early 2-0 lead.
Doug Mohns and Ron Anderson scored in the first 4:12, before Oakland rallied to tie the score 3-3. Nelson Pyatt, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings a month earlier, restored the Capitals lead at 6:31 of the third period, netting the eventual game-winning goal in a 5-3 Capitals triumph.
“The Washington Capitals won a road hockey game tonight. Honest,” read the lede of Ken Denlinger’s game story in the Washington Post.
The 17-game losing streak and the 37-game road losing streak were both snapped. They remain NHL records more than four decades later.
“It’s like winning the Stanley Cup,” Schmidt told the Oakland Tribune.
For some Capitals players, winning that first road game was in fact cause for a Stanley Cup like celebration.
“Let’s face it, that was one of the longest seasons of my life,” Yvon Labre told Sports Talk 570 in Washington in 2013. “Tommy Williams had gotten this little trashcan out of the dressing room, and he had a bunch of guys sign it. Him a couple of other guys [brought it out] on the Oakland rink, and were skating around with it. They called it the Stanley Can.”
Depending on who you ask from that team, there are different recollections as to who exactly initiated the Stanley Cup celebration. But everyone took part, hoisting the trash can above their heads and parading it around the ice, as if it were, you know, an actual trophy.
“I know Nelson Pyatt, who we traded for, he was a pretty quiet guy but he had a couple of goals that night,” said Lalonde, “and I think he was the one who kind of spearheaded it. It’s hard to know whose idea it was, but we all quickly joined in because we had all felt the frustration of going 37 consecutive games without a win on the road. There had been a few close ones, but there were also a lot of lopsided ones too.”
Ron Low made 17 saves in the win in Oakland, as the Capitals improved to 7-64-5 on the season.
“You started to really feel like you might never win another hockey game,” Low told NHL.com in 2008. “You started to think, ‘Maybe it’s just not possible.’ It felt like forever. That’s why there was so much jubilation in our room that night when we broke it.”
The story of the Capitals first road win, and the celebration that followed, will forever have a place in team history, but few hockey fans actually saw or heard it unfold live.
Only 3,933 fans were in attendance that night in Oakland, and with the game taking place three times zone away, the Capitals didn’t secure the win until the early hours in the morning back in Washington.
“By the time we got into the dressing room,” Lalonde said, “and came up with the idea of raising the garbage can- an old plastic green garbage can, and walking around with it- by the time we got back out on the ice, there was nobody left in the arena other than a handful of ushers and people cleaning up. So, it kind of went unnoticed besides internally in our room, but we all signed the garbage can and when we went back the next season, our names were still on that garbage can in the visiting team’s dressing room. That was quite an event.”
It was also the only road win of the Capitals’ inaugural campaign. The Capitals lost in Detroit and in Montreal during the final week of the regular season to finish the road portion of their 1974-75 itinerary with a 1-39-0 record.