"They tied us," Washington winger Tony White emphasized yesterday, after a power-play goal by Rick Macleish with 3 minutes 36 seconds remaining had lifted the Philadelphia Flyers into a 5-5 stalemate with the Capitals.
Washington fans among the sharply divided sellout throng of 18,130 were savoring a first victory over the potent Flyers after Gerry Meehan's rebound sailed just under the crossbar for a 5-4 Capital advantage with 6:25 left.
The Capital's Gordie Lane went off for cross-checking Mel Bridgman as the clock slipped down to 4:31, and therein entered some question about the ethics of refereeing.
Dave Newell, the man with the red armbands, called a close games, whistling 23 penalties and keeping matters under control in difficult circumstances. One tactic he used to accomplish his peace making came into play after Lane was penalized. According to Capital witnesses, he admonished the belligerent Bridgman not to retaliate, because he had already fingered Lane for the sin bin.
According, Bridgman curbed his anger, rather than risk a canceling penalty. Newell's advice maintained the peace, but it also assured a Philadelphia power play.
After MacLeish shot wide on a rebound of defenseman Bob Dailey's shot, he regained possession, circled in from goalie Bernie Wolfe's left and beat Wolfe with a wrist shot from the right-wing circle.
"MacLeish circles Daily heads for the net, and the puck goes though Dailey's legs and under me," Wolfe reconstructed. "It's so disappointing to have it decided on power-play goals."
Oddly, the first 20 penalties did not affect the scoring, seven goals coming with teams at equal strength. But all three violations in the third period resulted in goals, two by the Flyers and one by Washington.
There were two ways to vies the deadlock, which brought the Capitals their first four-game unbeaten streak while negating the dream of a four-game victory string.
"If feels good when you get a point against them," said Meehan. "They're one of the best teams in hockey."
"We wanted to win and we were up one goal with four minutes left," said Ron Lalonde, "so we should have won. But when you look at the last five or six games overall, you've got to be pleased."
"Every time we tie that hockey club," said coach Tom McVie of the Capitals' third deadlock against Philadelphia, "it makes you want to beat them more and more. But I "say one thing about that game. People say there's no hard work left in the game. Well, that game proved to me that athletes want to work."
It was an amazing exhibition, considering that the Capitals returned home at 4 a.m. after beating the Blues, 5-2, in St. Louis, and the Flyers arrived just two hours earlier from an identical success in Pittsburgh.
Washington's Bryan Watson drew the first of the 23 penalties, for cross checking just 10 seconds into the saves against the Flyers' extra-man game. Wolfe made three marvelous pressure, then Guy Charron scored on the Capitals' first shot.
Some superb passing from Ycon Labre at the side boards to Hartland Monahan at the rear boards, to the unguarded Charron skating into the slot, set up Charron's 26th goal.
Don Saleski pulled Philadelphia even, swinging around from behind the Washington net and beating Wolfe on the short side for his 12th goal.
Just 43 seconds later Watson threw a perfect cross-body check at MacLeish, who lost the puck. Bob Sirois picked it up, skated to the left-wing circle and whipped his 11th goal past Bernie Parent.
"If you don't get a good piece of him, he's gone," Watson said of one of the game's most perfectly executed maneuvers. "But give Bobby credit. He made a great shot."
Bob Kelly sent the Flyers into a 3-2 lead in the second period, beating Wolfe at 3:32 and again at 11:58 to raise his season total to 12.
The first time, Kelly escaped Gordy Smith's clutches in the slot to poke the puck under Wolfe's groping glove. The second time he slipped the puck past Wolfe on a second effort after Bridgman had sent a dangerous pass into the slot.
With three minutes left in the second period, Bill Collins fired a shot that struck Dailey in the ankle and rendered him temporarily helpless. Rick Bragnalo, just back from serving a double minor, gathered in the puck in the corner and centered to Lalonde, who escorted it into the net.
"I have no idea how it went in," Lalonde said of his 100th NHL point. "Brags centered out to me, the puck was on my stick and somebody hit me from behind just as I tried to shoot Wasington grabbed a 4-3 lead just the puck."
15 seconds into the final period. Bill Riley escaped a crowd near the right-wing circle, passed up a reasonable shot and fed Watson at the right point. Watson's shot somehow slipped under Dailey's skate and past the screened Parent. It was Watson's first goal since he connected against the Capitals as a member of the Detroit Red Wings two years ago. Meehan's assist on the play was his 200th in the NHL.
"I waited for somebody to get in position for a deflection," Watson said, "and then the whole thing opened up. I guess I fooled him and got more wood on it than he thought."
"Ever since I played minor hockey I've been drilled to go back to the point," Riley said. "Bryan was wide open. Probably by the time I turned around, somebody would have been on top of me."
The Capitals had several chances to extend their lead, but first Dailey smothered a Meehan shot on a two-on-one break, the Parent foiled a good shot by Sirois and finally Sirois shot wide on a setup from Jack Lynch.
When Collins went off for hooking MacLeish, Gary Dornhoefer deflected a Tom Baldon slap shot to create a 4-4 deadlock.
A hooking violation by the Flyers' Paul Holmgren set up Meehan's power-play score, a rebound of a drive by Ace Bailey. Then MacLeish left everyone in knots.
Craig Patrick, a winger left homeless by the collapse of the World Hockey League's Minnesota Fighting Saints, came back from St. Louis with the Capitals. He will be signed as a free agent when the Capitols receive written confirmation that he has no WHA ties. Patrick, 30, is a checking specialist who has played for California, St. Louis and Kansas City in the NHL . . . The Capitals finished January with a 500 mark, 6-6-4 . . . Washington trails third-place Los Angeles by only six points, with that big confrontation set for the Forum Wednesday night . . . The Flyers called for a measurement of Riley's stick yesterday and paid $100 when it complied with the half-inch curve regulation."I just started using it last night," Riley said, "and I though 'My God, I hope it's not over.' It was really going through my mind while we waited." Since it was the first such request at Capital Centre, it was necessary to find the instrument of determination in the dressing room . . . Riley is now plus-six, which is some kind of a mark for a Capital . . . Watson had the last word: "We've got the snowball going now."