Two goals down with eight minutes left, the Washington Capitals were in position to pull out their usual tie last night. And so they did, as Bob Kelly scored two goals just 13 seconds apart to produce a 3-3 deadlock with the Minnesota North Stars.
The Capitals' 10th tie in 24 games extended their unbeaten streak to six, one short of the club record. Of the last 11 games, Washington has lost only one, which leaves unexplained the mystery of why only 8,796 showed up at Capital Centre.
The Kelly conundrum is easier to dissect. He has scored four goals in the last two games, has recorded at least one in five straight contests and has a season total of 10. That is heavy artillery for a guy who never totaled more than 22 during 10 seasons with a Philadelphia team that scored with far greater frequency than Washington.
However, Kelly never saw a lot of ice time in Philadelphia.He occupied a special niche, coming out whenever the Flyers needed a spark. Here he not only plays a regular shift with multitalented Dennis Maruk and Jean Pronovost, he also jams the slot during portions of power plays.
It was during the Capitals' sixth extra-man situation, with Minnesota's Greg Smith off for holding, that Kelly pulled Washington within 3-2. Maruk dug the puck out of the left-wing corner and fed Kelly in front at 12:10.
After the face-off, Kelly skated down the right side and shot, then circled behind the net. Goalie Gilles Meloche allowed the rebound to leak out, but Greg Smith poked it toward the goalie. Pronovost then shoved Smith into Meloche, the puck popped loose and Kelly grabbed it, firing a backhander over Meloche for the tying goal.
"It could just as easy been whistled dead," Kelly said. "I was going slow, because I thought he'd (referee Kerry Fraser) blow the whistle, and I guess just about everybody expected the play to be tied up. But Prony was after it and he jammed it in front and it squirted onto my stick. I went into the slot and I had the whole upper half of the net to shoot at."
"I thought he'd blow the whistle and after it went in, I turned around to see if it counted," Pronovost said. "It was a real nice feeling."
The final result left the Capitals with a good feeling, too, because Minnesota poured on the pressure during the remaining seven minutes. With 63 seconds left, Al MacAdam was sent in on a breakaway by a Bobby Smith pass, but goalie Wayne Stephenson held his ice and blocked MacAdam's shot. The rest of the way, the puck stayed almost exclusively in the Washington end, and it was not until Ryan Walter won a face-off from Minnesota's Bobby Smith with five seconds left that the result was assured.
This was a strange game, in which the first 10 minutes produced only three shots, two by Washington. Then Bobby Smith sent Minnesota in front on a power play, only to have Paul Mulvey tie it on a rebound of a shot by Ryan Walter.
Ron Zanussi regained the lead for Minnesota before the first period ended and Tim Young made it 3-1 on a power-play blast that caromed in off a goal post. When the Capitals suffered overlapping penalties to Maruk and Alan Hangsleben late in the second period, things were dark for the home side. Once again, though, Washington preserved its half a loaf.
"They didn't give us a lot of skating room," Maruk said. "They forechecked well and there was no time for our defense to look for open guys. We were going in circles for a while, then we were able to open it up a little in the third period. They were watching me pretty close and holding my stick a few times.
"I'm glad Bob Kelly was able to put a couple in. He's a good asset for me and for the team. He can stand in front of the net and not get knocked down and, if I can get him the puck, he can score."
Kelly's second straight two-goal game brought the usual questions about a hat trick. Kelly never has recorded one, although he remembered a game against Detroit, when he was with the Flyers, and "I scored one that would have given me a hat trick and made the score 12-3, but a man was in the crease.