For the first time in their five-year history, the Washington Capitals have played six straight games without a defeat. That milestone was reached today in a 3-3 tie with the Detroit Red Wings, and the weary Capitals, completing their second game in less than 24 hours, were content to munch half a loaf.

For the last three minutes, aided by a penalty against Washington's Dennis Hextall, the Wings swarmed around the Washington net. In the closing seconds, a Dale McCourt shot struck Dennis Maruk, caromed off goalie Gary struck Dennis Maruk, caromed off goalie Gary Inness' arm and hit the goal post before sliding into the corner.

Paul Woods retrieved the puck and fried a shot that defenseman Yvon Labre blocked in Inness' absence. Finally the beleaguered goalie flooped on the puck, breaststroke style, as time ran out.

"I wanted that puck, one way or another," Inness said. "I didn't want them to get another shot. I'll take a mark like that anytime (pointing to a red blotch on his left arm) to keep it out. But we were sure lucky on that one."

"I just saw him (Woods) wind up and I went down against the post." Labre said. "I was going to make them work for it. The puck hit me and went in the corner."

Hextall, returning to the arena where the folks loved him -- and, judging by his reception, still do -- was a key figure in much of the action. He collected hs first goal as a Capital to create a 2-2 tie in the second period and he drew two penalties, one of which was turned into a goal by Detroit's potent extra-man play.

All three Red Wing scores came on power plays, giving Detroit a league high of 64 in that department. Nevertheless, Coach Danny Belisle was not critical or his players for drawing the penalties that set them up.

"I don't think we took any stupid penalties," Belisle said. "How can you avoid them? Give Detroit credit. They were buzzing out there Sometimes we were just trying to catch them."

For a period, the Capitals couldn't catch them. Vaclav Nedomansky netted his 34th goal and Perry Miller his fourth -- third against Washington -- as the Wings held the Caitals without a shot for 11 minutes and gained an 11-4 edge over 20 minutes.

Tom Rowe, who had scored four goals against St. Louis Saturday, found himself in the penalty box in the second minute today for slugging Bill Hogaboam.

"He held me in the corner and just wouldn't let me go," said Rowe, "so I turned and gave him a shot in the head."

Rowe received an extra minor and was off when McCourt pried the puck from under Hextall's skates and set up Nedomansky. Hextall was sentenced for tripping McCourt and watched Miller's goal from the box.

"That was as clean a check as you are going to get," said Hextall, although referee Andy Van Hellemond disagreed.

Rowe got more revenge on a power play he arranged himself. He cut between Wings Greg Joly and Errol Thompson, heading for a breakaway, and Thompson hooked him down. Then, in the extra-man situation, Rowe whistled a 30-footer past goalie Jim Rutherford from the right-wing circle for his 30th goal. Only Guy Charron (36 in 1976-77 and 38 last year) had ever reached that figure before for Washington.

"I never though of 30 when the season started, but I've just kept going," Rowe said. "I'm not looking for anybody when I get set, I'm just shooting."

Hextall tied the score three minutes later after Paul Mulvey took the puck away from McCourt, who was headed toward his own goal instead of bringing the puck up ice. Hextall knocked McCourt out of Mulvey's way, then netted the rebound after Rutherford blocked Mulvey's shot. The crowd of 14,602 cheered enthusiastically for the guy the Wings sent away against their wishes.

"I was a little nervous coming in here and I just wanted to have a good game," said Hextall, a gutty guy who was playing below full speed because of a rib that was cracked in Monday's game with Montreal. "I came out hitting and trying to control the corners. That's my game and I wanted the people here to know I could still play it. The people here were very good to me."

Detroit went back in front four seconds after Washington's Gord Lane was penalized for holding. McCourt's drive from the left point deflected off Andre St. Laurent, struck the goal post and caromed into the net.

Inness made some super saves to keep the Caps close and Charron evened the score again at 4:52 of the third period. Bob Sirois, who earned his 100th assist as a Capital, passed from the right-wing boards to Robert Picard at the left point. Picard's shot struck the post and came out to Charron, who drilled home the puck for his 25th goal and became the fifth Capital to reach that figure this season.

The Capitals hustled the rest of the way and there was one memorable play when Ryan Walter, racing down to try to avert an icing call, became entangled with a Wing without the puck being touched. Picard got there and made initial contact to wash out the icing.

There was relief at the buzzer, as the Capitals could not regain momentum following Hextall's second penalty, for tripping McCourt with three minutes left. Then the Wings' Dennis Polonich lured Picard into a fight to further reduce the manpower on the ice and give the Wings some extra skating room.

"I'm happy to get a point out of the thing," Belisle said. "It's a good sign -- that's twice now we've come back from being down 2-0 on the road. This club doesn't quit."