Jean Pronovost scored with five seconds remaining tonight to give the Washington Captals a 4-4 tie with the Winnipeg Jets in one of those heartstopping finishes that have had a way of choking Washington fans in recent years.
This time the speechless victim was Winnipeg Coach Tom McVie, foiled in a sixth attempt to finally win a game from the team he once coached.
The Capitals for the first time in their history produced two goals after yanking the goaltender for a sixth skater. They trailed, 4-2, when Coach Gary Green called a timeout with 1:36 remaining and assigned Wayne Stephenson to the bench.
It took Washington only five seconds to trim the deficit to 4-3. Bob Kelly dug the puck out of the left wing corner and fed pinching defenseman Rick Green, who collected his second goal in two games from close range.
"We were just trying to force them," Rick Green said. "Bobby threw it out front, I was in the right place and I got it high for a change." t
Stephenson was out once more when Winnipeg's Normand Dupont, already a three-goal scorer, fired a long shot toward the empty net. It was close enough to cut through the crease and wash out a potential icing call, but it did not go in.
Before Stephenson could return, defenseman Pat Ribble made a big save on a shot by Peter Marsh. Then, as the Capitals got control, Stephenson became an on-and-off shuffler. He was heading off when Dave Christian got possession for Winnipeg and retreated in time to block his shot.
With 25 seconds left, Wes Jarvis jumped out to replace Stephenson and play shifted conclusively to Winnipeg ice, where several players hacked at the puck before Pronovost slid it in from the right of goalie Lindsay Middlebrook.
"It was unreal, like a pinball machine," Pronovost said. "I was surprised the puck would come to me. It went from Gusty (bengt Gustafsson) in the corner to the front of the net, where it hit Guy's (Charron) leg, then it hit one of their legs. Jarvie shot and they blocked it and it came to me at the side. I just shot."
"Some nights you gamble and lose," Gary Green said. "Tonight was an encouraging tie, although I honestly thought we deserved to win that game. Their goals were not a result of pressure, but the result of mistakes, rookie mistakes that we have to live with while we're giving young players experience."
Two Winnipeg scores, by Dupont in the first period, resulted from errors by left wing Torrie Robertson, who was thereafter seated on the bench while Jarvis, a center, took his place on the left side with Charron and Dennis Ververgaert.
The other two booboos were committed by defenseman Darren Veitch, caught out of position on a drive by Doug Smail, then involved in a confused change when Dupont raced past him to make it 4-2 with 4:16 left. i
That appeared to ice McVie's first-ever success over Washington, but instead the Capitals made it a disastrous night for the 12,095 fans, McVie and Winnipeg General Manager John Ferguson, who began tearing up the press box in disgust.
Winnipeg's winless streak was reaching seven at the same time the Capitals' similar string was hitting six, but the Jets have won only one game while the Capitals are not too bad off at 3-4-5.
This was the finale of a five-game road trip in which Washington played four ties and lost to Los Angeles. Although Washington had a 35-28 shooting edge and generally dominated play, it was glad to pick up one point because of the sensational goaltending of the 5-foot-7 Middlebrook, who came into the contest with a 5.25 goals-against mark.
"We'll take one point out of this one," Rick Green said.