The Washington Capitals' four-game winning streak tottered on thin ice for most of a long evening at Capital Centre last night. It finally collapsed and sank.
A third-period goal by Lorne Stamler gave the Toronto Maple Leafs a 2-2 tie with the Capitals as 10,856 fans voiced displeasure with both the officiating and the ice surface.
The game started 15 minutes late, then lasted three hours, largely because of repairs required to make the ice playable. An inch think in some spots, it was almost gone in others.
Chants of "We want a ref" and others less palatable thundered through the building as the crowd, the players and club officials objected to the call -- or no calls -- of referee John McCauley.
The Capitals will never be convinced they did not score three times, as an apparent first-period goal by Tom Rowe was disallowed by both goal judge Gus Connery and McCauley.
No replay was displayed on Telscreen, because NHL rules forbid the use of a replay machine on controversial calls. However, before the game had ended, the rule apparently was ignored, because third-period replays clearly showed Toronto's Pat Boutette tripping Rowe, the Leafs' Jimmy Jones hooking down Greg Polis and a blue-sleeved fist landing in the face of Gary Rissling. No penalties resulted from any of them.
But it was the goal that was no goal that left the most unpalatable taste and Rowe, who shot the puck, was probably fortunate not to draw a misconduct penalty for his display of rage at Connery and McCauley.
"In effect, we won 3 to 2," Rowe said. "I took a shot, it hit his (goalie Mike Palmateer's) blocker and it rollde over the line. He pulled it back. I was even with the line and I saw it go over."
"I looked at the replay and there is no question it was in the net," said Washington General Manager Max McNab. "In defense of the goal judge, the puck was on edge and Palmateer reached over it with his stick and pulled it back."
"It did not go in," said Connery, who did not have the opportunity for a second look. "The goalie's stick was covering the puck and from my position the puck was not over the line. The ref was right there and he confirmed it."
"I couldn't tell," said Toronto Coach Roger Neilson. "I guess it bounced on the line and the goal judge said it wasn't in. The ref couldn't have told where it was, though, because he was out by the blue line."
"The shot went off my glove and it went over me," Palmateer said, "and I got my stick on it right before it went over the line. It was really close, but as far as I'm concerned it didn't go over. But I know it was really close. Those things always happen to me. I'm the luckiest guy you ever met."
Palmateer had some more luck before the first period ended, as Ryan Walter circled behind teammate Rick Green, who had been checked while carrying the puck, and fired a drive off the crossbar.
Walter was struck in the right eye by a stick as he shot and the eye bore a purplish tinge after the game.
The awful first period ended with Toronto ahead, 1-0, on a drive from the slot by defenseman Dave Hutchison. Washington goalie Gary Inness, trying to move the puck from behind his net, put it on the stick of Toronto's Pat Boutette, who shoved it to Walt McKechnie. The former Capital's perfect pass set up Hutchison, who had moved in close with the play behind the net.
When Hutchison threw a punch at the Capitals' Dennis Maruk, he set up a second-period Washington power play on which Guy Charron netted a 55-foot shot for his 18th goal. It gave the Capitals two club records -- scoring in 35 straight games and connecting with a power-play goal in eight straight.
Charron, just inside the blue line, intercepted a clearing pass by defenseman Joel Quenneville and fired away.
"It must have hit something, because it sure changed direction." Charron said. "I guess it hit one of their defensemen."
That came at 12:48 and just 77 seconds later Greg Polis reached out and deflected Gord Lane's slap shot to give the Capitals a 2-1 lead. It was Polis' fifth goal in six games as a Capital.
Late in the period, Maruk hit a post from the right-wing circle and the Capitals swarmed all over Palmateer without increasing the margin.
At 10:03 of the third period, Boutette took the puck from the Capitals' Blair Stewart just inside the Washignton blue line and fed Stamler in the left-wing circle. Inness got his glove on Stamler's blast, but the puck dropped on the netting behind him.
The game ended without further scoring, but Inness was pressed to maintain the tie. He stopped break-aways by Stamler and Lanny McDonald, then McDonald hit the crossbar on a rebound of an Ian Turnbull drive.
Washington's Robert Picard celebrated his new status as an NHL all-star by throwing hard checks at any opponent who skated into his area. The Leafs threw their share of bodies around, too, making this one of the season's roughest games despite the slim total of 26 penalty minutes.
"He (McCauley) did let quite a bit go," Neilson said, "but it wasn't a dirty game, and I don't think either team benefited from the officiating."
As for the thin ice, Neilson said, "It was really rough. It looked like it might go right down to the cement and we'd have to call the game off, but it got a little better as the game went on."
Washington Coach Danny Belisle felt the poor ice helped the Leafs, because "they just came in here to play Katy-bar-the-door and the slow tempo hurt us more than it hurt them."
Of the officiating, Belisle said, "I don't blame him (McCauley). I don't think he had a good night, but what infuriated me was we're in our own building and I look on video and the puck goes in and the goal judge doesn't turn on the light."