The Washington Capitals and Colorado Rockies played it so close to the vest here tonight it would have served them right if someone had pulled out a magic wand and turned both teams into pocket watches.

Neither team won, nor did the fans.

After the clubs matched second-period goals to skate to a lackluster 1-1 tie at McNichols Sports Arena, neither coach was about to apoligize for the conservative contest.

The Capitals, although outshot, 32-20, got their 17th point in their last 12 games on the strength of Mike Gartner's scoring shot from the top of the right circle at 7:03 of the middle period, and the strong goaltending of Wayne Stephenson. Colorado's only goal -- scored by Lanny McDonald at 14:13 of the second period -- came when the Capitals were skating two men shorthanded.

Otherwise, Stephenson was superb and Washington was content to play for the tie in the final period.

"I know, from the fans' standpoint, that wasn't very exciting," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "The main reason, though, was that there was a lot of board play.

"Don (Colorado Coach Cherry) has his team shooting the puck a lot around the boards to his wingers, and, likewise, we were doing a lot of that tonight, too. Our defensemen were shooting it around, and I know that's not exciting when the puck's along the boards all the time.

"But, from a coach's standpoint, I thought both clubs played very well."

Cherry, meanwhile, said the Caps were playing for a tie in the last 15 minutes. But I don't blame them. That's what you should do, how you should play, on the road.

"We had our opportunities, but we just don't have enough gunners right now. If Lanny doesn't score, if Rene (Robert) doesn't score . . .

"When I was at Boston, we could play the very same game, and not charge all over the place. We played that way lots of times, just waited for the opportunities, and won 3-1. But right now, we just don't have the gunners."

The tie was the second in as many visits to Denver for the Caps this season, and it made their record 18-32-10. Colorado, meanwhile, came in with two wins in a row, and the deadlock made the Rockies 16-34-10.

The Caps' only goal against Colorado goalie Bill McKenzie came when both teams were shorthanded. Colorado's Ron Delorme and Washington's Alan Hangsleben were sent off for roughing at 5:51 of the second period. Just over halfway through the coincident minors, Gartner carried the puck in on a two-on-one, chose to keep it, and scord his 22nd goal of the season on the 35-foot shot.

Colorado got the tying goal after Pierre Bouchard was called for hooking at 13:08, and Stephenson was whistled for roughing at 13:44. With the 5-3 advantage in skaters, it took the Rockies 29 seconds to get the puck past Stephenson.

McDonald, the right wing Colorado acquired from Toronto in December, took a pass from Rob Ramage in the right circle, skated two strides toward Stephenson, then fired the puck just inside the left post.

That brought Bouchard out of the penalty box, and the Caps were able to kill off the remaining 1:31 of Stephenson's penalty.

In the third period, Washington got only five shots on goal against McKenzie. Its best chance was Mark Lofhouse's shot from 10 feet out, but McKenzie made the save.

The game was a one-stop road-trip for the Capitals, who next play Los Angeles at home Tuesday night.