The Washington Capitals lost defenseman Rick Green in the first period tonight, and lost any resemblance to a winning hockey club in the second.

In the third period, however, the Capitals once again came charging back in the face of adversity. They turned a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 lead before a soft goal by George Ferguson enabled the Pittsburgh Penguins to escape with a 4-4 tie.

Dennis Maruk scored twice in that final-period surge, for a season total of 33, and Pat Ribble added the other. They were given credit by Coach Gary Green for providing the leadership that pulled the Capitals up from the second-period pits.

Rick Green, a gifted athlete who seems starcrossed by physical misfortune, severely aggravated a pulled muscle high in the right groin in the first period. He was in so much pain tonight that it seems unlikely he would suit up Sunday when the Edmonton Oilers visit Capital Centre for a 5 p.m. contest.

"The pain is pretty bad right now," Green said. "It was a little sore a couple of days ago and then tonight in the corner, as I turned and went to push off, I heard something snap. It seized right up on me. Unless the new leg I ordered is in now, I don't think I'll be playing for awhile."

With Green out, Alan Hangsleben was shifted to defense in the second period. For the third, however, he was back on the front line with Maruk and Jean Pronovost and that trio provided most of the offensive spark that brought the Capitals roaring back from the two-goal deficit.

Pittsburgh's Peter Lee was dealt a hooking penalty, the last violation referee Ron Wicks bothered to call, after 52 seconds of the third period. While off, Penguin goalie Greg Millen made several close-in saves before Mike Gartner slid the puck out to Ribble. He connected from 50 feet out while Millen was still down. It was the Capitals' second power-play goal, the first time they had managed two in a game since Dec. 26.

The Capitals caught up at 8:01, as Pronovost outfought Greg Malone along the right-wing boards and sent a perfect pass to Maruk. Despite the close checking of defenseman Mario Faubert, Maruk was able to deflect it behind Millen for a 3-3 tie.

Maruk hit again at 12:24, coming around from behind the net to beat Millen on the short side after Hangsleben had knocked the puck loose from Paul Baxter.

The Capitals' only lead of the game lasted 62 seconds. Ferguson fired from the right-wing boards, outside the faceoff circle, and the puck struck goalie Dave Parro's stick and trickled behind him. It was a tough finish for Parro, who had made some sensational saves throughout the game, but particularly during Washington's second-period breakdown.

"I guess I'll have to chart Davy like the rest of the guys -- great game except," Gary Green said. "He had a great game except for that goal. The three forward lines and the defense had a great game except for the second period.

"We had a horrendous second period. We were lifeless. Only about half our guys were going. We corrected that and had a damn strong third period. PeeWee (Maruk) really led us well in the third period. He took charge for us. And Rib took charge of the defense with Greenie gone.

"I'm satisfied with the point because of the way we played in the second period. You have to play three good periods to get two points."

Maruk, after a stretch of 10 games in which he scored only one goal, now has recorded five in the last four games and this is the first time all season he has scored a goal in four straight. He has scored five goals here, having posted a hat trick as Washington won, 3-1, on Nov. 12.

"We knew it was an important game for us and we wanted to win," Maruk said. "We worked hard and we worked well together.I think with the 3-1 lead they kind of let up a little bit and we took advantage of it. It's a big point. We want to get over that 50-point barrier and keep on going.

"On the road trip when we were struggling, I was sick and some other guys were missing. Things just weren't bouncing right. But we got some guys back and I'm feeling better. It all helps."

So now the Capitals have 48 points and they are 12th, just one point behind Chicago. But in addition to Green's injury, Wes Jarvis took a bad bruise on a right knee that had slightly stretched ligaments before.

"I don't know whether I took charge or not, but he told me to," Ribble said of Gary Green's between-periods orders. "Somebody's got to do it. It happened before and we had to dig in."