Bob Kelly completed the first hat trick of his 11-year National Hockey League career with only 1 minute 55 seconds remaining tonight to lift the injury-ridden Washington Capitals into a 4-4 tie with the third-place Los Angeles Kings.
Another Washington hero was goalie Mike Palmateer, who played with his left ankle securely taped after he damaged ligaments in Vancouver Tuesday. Palmateer made 23 saves and his presence was sufficient to inspire his teammates, playing without six injured regulars.
The Capitals seemed dead when they fell behind, 4-2, with 15:24 remaining. However, Washington outshot Los Angeles, 14-6, in the final period and was rewarded with goals by Bengt Gustafsson and Kelly that were good for a valuable, unexpected point.
"Comebacks like this are great for a team," Kelly said. "They mean a lot down the line. When we're in the playoffs, we'll remember games like this and the one in Pittsburgh (a 4-4 tie) and we'll be able to draw on it.
"The hat trick doesn't mean anything. I'm not being humble. I'm glad to get it, but if we didn't get that point I wouldn't care a bit about it. I'd far rather be in the playoffs than get 25 goals or a dozen hat tricks. I don't have any bonuses for goals or assists."
Gustafsson scored on a rebound with 12:12 to play, after Los Angeles goalie Mario Lessard had blocked two shots by Ryan Walter. It came with the Kings' Dave Taylor off for cross-checking and marked the Capitals' ninth power-play score in the last six games, after the team had gone five games without a power-play goal.
Washington had a great opportunity when King Gerry Korab missed a pass off the boards in the Washington end and Dennis Maruk scooped up the puck to sail in on a breakaway with 5:20 left. Korab tripped him from behind and was dealt a minor penalty by referee Bruce Hood as the Capitals vainly argued for a penalty shot.
The Kings survived the two-minute disadvantage and seemed headed for victory until Mike Gartner carried the puck over the Los Angeles blueline. He was hauled down, but Rick Smith fired the puck toward the net. Lessard blocked it and Maruk could not handle the rebound, but Kelly reached out and deflected the puck with his stick. It spun over Lessard's shoulder into the net, from where Gartner fished it out for posterity.
"It wasn't much of a shot," Kelly said. "He (Lessard) was down and it hit his stick. PeeWee (Maruk) missed it and I stuck my stick out and it went spinning up in the air.
Kelly, 30, who spent his first 10 seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, was playing his 796th regular-season game. He also has participated in 101 playoff games without a hat trick.
Kelly opened the scoring at 6:23 of the first period, converting Wes Jarvis' feed from behind the King net.
Los Angeles went ahead, 3-1, on two goals by Taylor and another by Marcel Dionne. But Kelly brought it back to 3-2 with a power-play goal at 10:11 of the second period, finishing off some classy passing by Walter and Smith.
Washington was unlucky not to tie the game while King Doug Halward served a hooking penalty early in the third period. Then Dionne hit again, cutting down the slot to get his stick on Charlie Simmer's pass from the right-wing boards, and it was 4-2 and seemingly money in the bank for a team that had won 23 of 24 previous games in which it entered the final period with a lead.
It was Dionne's 46th of the season, giving him 99 points, one fewer than Edmonton's Wayne Gretzky. He also now has 661 career points, a club record, in 447 games with Los Angeles. Additionally, Palmateer said, Dionne was fortunate to score.
"My weight was planted on my foot and I couldn't kick sideways," Palmateer said. "Ordinarily, I would have had it. I had trouble moving from side to side, but overall the ankle held up fine. Billy Bozak did a good job taping it up."
Palmateer went through only the first five minutes of the warmup, then retreated to the dressing room.
"I hadn't been on skates for five days and I couldn't afford to tire myself out," Palmateer said. "I didn't want to take any chances tonight."
Coach Gary Green spent the afternoon by the swimming pool, dreaming up new line combinations. He wound up with Jarvis centering Kelly and Dennis Ververgaert, Walter between Alan Hangsleben and Jean Pronovost, and Maruk the pivot for Gustafsson and Gartner.
The defensive pairings were shaken up, too, with Yvon Labre making his first appearance since Jan. 17. Labre played with Dwayne Lowdermilk, Smith was with Pierre Bouchard and rookies Jay Johnston and Jim McTaggart turned in a most impressive performance together.
"When you get that many injuries, it just makes the guys pull together that much more," Green said. "We weren't going to use the injuries as an excuse, a nail to hang your hat on. We took the attitude that we had 19 guys here and they were going to go out and play to win."