The Washington Capitals were psyched up for a first-ever victory over the Philadelphia Flyers last night. The Flyers came to town laden with extra beer to celebrate the clinching of first place in the regular season. The resulting 3-3 tie satisfied nobody.
Washington, trailing 2-0 after the first period, rebounded for a 3-2 lead and was tasting that breakthrough success. Instead, because of a fluke goal by Tom Gorence, the Capitals had to be satisfied with the one point that barely kept them in playoff territory, holding 16th place by one point over Detroit.
The Flyers' beer went flat after that first-period domination and they still need another point to be certain Buffalo will not sneak in No. 1, with the resulting home-ice advantage in all playoff games.
"Well, it's a point," said Flyer General Manager Keith Allen, unenthusiastically.
"We weren't playing for a tie," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "We wanted to go for that win."
"We'll get them," said defenseman Rick Green. "They're just an ordinary team. The way we're playing, they all are. That tying goal of theirs was a real fluke. It wasn't even a hard shot. It could have really gone in our favor otherwise."
Gorence's goal came with 37 seconds remaining in the second period and appeared to deflate the Capitals. The Flyers had a bid edge during the third period, but ex-Flyer Wayne Stephenson made some big saves in the Washington nets to keep it even.
A brilliant effort by Bengt Gustafsson sent the Capitals in front for the first and only time at 3-2 with 1:18 remaining in the second period. Rolf Edberg crossed the Flyer blue line, circled and was crunched by two Flyers. He managed to poke the puck to Gustafsson as he went down and Gustafsson had a clear path to the goal.
Flyer goalie Phil Myre blocked Gustafsson's shot with his left leg, but the Swede netted the rebound for his 21st goal.
The Capital segment of the sellout 18,130 was still shouting its joy when the Flyer portion was given an opportunity to howl.
Forty-one seconds was the extent of Washington's advantage. Rick MacLeish won a faceoff from Ryan Walter and fed Gorence near the inner edge of the right-wing circle. Gorence's shot struck defenseman Robert Picard's stick and sailed past Stephenson.
"I tried to lift my stick, because Steph has told me to get it out of the way," Picard said. "But it nicked the blade and changed direction, just six or eight inches but enough to throw Steph off."
Picard was in the penalty box when Paul Holmgren opened the Flyers scoring at 7:50 of the first period, just 13 seconds after Brian Propp appeared to put Philly in front.
Stephenson blocked a drive by Bill Barber and Propp knocked the rebound into the net with his glove. Referee Wally Harris first signaled a goal, then washed it out after he was advised otherwise by linesman John D'Amico.
"He directed it in with the back of te glove," D'Amico said. "Wally wasn't in position to see it, but I let him know."
The Flyers protested, then put one in officially without further fuss. Stephenson came far out for what seemed a routine grab, but fumbled the puck. Propp pulled it away from him, then Ken Linseman banged the puck through Stephenson's legs and wide of the net. Linseman retrieved it and centered through the crease, Holmgren poking it into the unguarded net.
Al Hill made it 2-0, skating from the left-wing corner around Pierre Bouchard and firing a backhander off the pad of the falling Stephenson.
"There were three bad bounces on that first goal and we seemed to get a little frustated and we didn't play our game," Gary Green said. "We straightened things out between periods and I thought we played 40 minutes of solid, disciplined hockey."
Mike Gartner, off target with his first six shots from the point on Washington power plays, put the seventh on net but not in, then Paul Mulvey deflected the eighth past Flyer goalie Phil Myre at 4:54 of the second period.
Stephenson blocked a breakaway by Reg Leach and Holmgren hit a post before Bob Sirois lifted the Capitals into a 2-2 tie. Dennis Maruk stole the puck from a befuddled Moose Dupont behind the Flyer net and set up Sirois for a drive from the right-wing circle.
"I guess I proved that even with a broken rib I can score," said ex-Flyer Sirois. "But it feels like a knife going down my side whenever I wind up."
Myre stopped a Mulvey breakaway before Guftafsson gave Washington that short-lived lead. Then it was another tie, the sixth against the Flyers to go with 17 defeats, lifetime, and thoughts turned to that other Pennsylvania club, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Capitals after a postgame dinner in owner Abe Pollin's private dining room, flew to Pittsburgh for that next important contest, at 2:30 this afternoon.
"You hope you're okay again so soon," Gustafsson said. "You have to be careful, because it's easy to let your mind go down a bit, in a lazier game."
After a physical battle with the Flyers, the bruised and battered Caps would hardly seem to want another rugged checking game, but there were skeptics.
"They didn't want any part of the rough stuff," said Picard, who hammered a few Flyers into the boards. "We were ready for them. We just missed so many chances."
The tie gave the Capitals an all-time season high of 64 points. It was, as previously noted, not enough this night.
"We wanted to win really bad," Gartner said. "We were down 2-0 and made a really fine comeback. We were happy to get a point we really needed, but we really wanted to win."