The Washington Capitals' five-game winning streak ended in bitter disappointment tonight. Rookie Ray Bourque's goal with 28 seconds left enable the Boston Bruins to tie the Capitals, 3-3, after Paul Mulvey's score 37 seconds earlier promised to bring Washington a first-ever victory in Boston Garden.
It was a finish similar to that last-minute tie with Philadelphia in late January. Twice it took outstanding efforts by the Bruins, with their goalie pulled, to keep the puck inside the Capitals' blue line.
First Brad Park kept the puck in at the right-wing boards, after Washington's Alan Hangsleben failed by inches to reach it. Then, when Park's shot caromed off a skate toward center ice, the puck hopped over Hangsleben's stick, Mike Gartner turned away in expectation of a Hangsleben pass and Bourque was able to keep it in once again.
"Instead of looking of a goal, we should have just tried to clear it out," Hangsleben said. "It came so close both times. The first time I just missed it and then it just bounced over my stick."
"I should have taken Bourque," said Gartner, whose empty-net goal sealed the Caps 6-4 win over Boston Wednesday. Instead of taking the man, I tried to push ahead toward the empty net. I thought the puck was going to come loose."
"The guys are very disappointed that we blew the lead," said Coach Gary Green. "But you learn from your mistakes and instead of hanging our heads and possibly losing our closeness, I just want them to think about it so it doesn't happen again.
"We've had success hitting the empty net and tonight they were more concerned about putting the puck into the empty net rather than making the sure defensive play.
"But let's look at it this way. In Novemeber or December we'd be breaking out the champagne to get a tie in Boston Garden. Tonight we're upset about it.That's progress."
The Capitals may have more to be upset about when they wake up Monday morning. Ryan Walter lost his balance and fell into the boards late in the second period, banging his head and twisting his left leg. Although he played in the third period and set up Mulvey's go-ahead goal with a perfect pass, Walter quickly headed for a whirpool afterward.
"I twisted my leg as I hit the boards," Walter said. "I thought something popped out, and it may have gone back in. Whether it stiffens up, I won't know until morning."
The Capitals, who played this game without defenseman Pat Ribble, a victim of a strained lateral ligament in the left knee, cannot afford to lost Walter.
Gartner extended his goal-scoring streak to seven games with a 40-foot blast late in the first period. Although the Bruins has an 18-8 shooting advantage over two periods, and three times hit a post, that was the only score until Rich Smith beat the Washington defense and flipped a high backhander into the net at 3:29 of the final period.
The Capitals, who never trailed, took a 2-1 lead with 8:04 to play when Boston defenseman Brad McCrimmon fell, triggering a three-on-one break. Mark Lofthouse converted Dennis Maruk's pass for his 14th goal.
Only 2:46 remained when Boston pulled into a 2-2 deadlock. Peter McNab, in the slot, took Al Secord's pass from behind the net and posted his 33rd goal.
There was much controversy a few seconds later when Washington's Rolf Edberg cut down the slot and fired a backhander that Cheeves mishandled. The puck appeared to be in the net, but the red light stayed off and referee Gregg Madill ruled no goal.
"It was in," said Hangsleben, who vainly tried to bat the puck in before play stopped. "Rolf scored, but (Bobby) Lalonde batted it out of the air before it hit the netting. It was over the goal line."
Refusing to quit after that disappointment, the Capitals swarmed around the Boston net, with Bob Sirois firing wide after Maruk won the faceoff. Then Robert Picard kept the puck inside the blue line and fired toward the right-wing corner. Walter picked up the puck and sent a perfect pass to Mulvey in front.
There was no victory celebration, but at least the Capitals equaled a year -- old team record by going unbeaten through six games. They also moved into a tie for 16th place with Detroit, one point behind Vancouver, which is now 15th.
With the Bruins missing bad guys Terry OL'Reilly (league suspension) and John Wensink (broken toe), Madill called only seven minor penalties, which may be a record low for a Boston -- Washington game. Frustrated Stan Jonathan did challenge the Washington bench once, receiving laughter for a reply. At the finish, through, nobody was laughing.