The power of positive thinking was a key factor Saturday night when the injury-plagued Washington Capitals rallied from a 4-2 deficit to tie the Los Angeles Kings, 4-4, and solidify their grip on 12th place in the National Hockey League.

Bob Kelly was the principal hero, completing his first NHL hat trick with 1:55 remaining to catch the third-place Kings. Kelly, a 10-year part-timer for the Philadelphia Flyers, was playing his 796th regular-season game. He also has participated in 101 playoffs contests and it was postseason play and the Capitals' progress toward same that were on his mind afterward, rather than the hat trick.

"I've never had a hat trick in my life, but I'm much more elated because we didn't quit," Kelly said. "We could have quit on injuries, but nobody was even thinking about the injuries.

"It's not fair to the guys we bring up to thalk about who isn't here. They're capable of doing the job or they wouldn't be in our farm system. Kid (Glen Currie), Tags (Jim Johnston have all shown they can play here. They're all contributing. It's not fair to blame injuries for a loss.

"Talk like that puts an automatic jinx on you. There was a World Series game where the manager came out and told a Minnesota pitcher with the bases loaded, 'Be sure you don't throw high and inside to this guy, because he murders those pitches.' The pitcher hadn't even thoght about it, but now he had it on his mind and he threw high and inside and lost the game.

"Comebacks like this are great for a team. They mean a lot down the line. When we're in the playoffs, we'll rememeber games like this and the one in Pittsburgh 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.

"It's more important for 20 guys to pull together and do something. We all want to get in the playoffs. That's our only goal and this game helped take us closer to it."

The Capitals have lost only one of their last seven games, a stretch that has boosted them within 17 of Coach Gary Green's bare minimum playoff target of 69 points. With 25 games left, and with the remaining schedule listing no more than two straight road games at any time, the situation is far brighter than the rain-filled skies here today.

"I think you'll be surprised how many of the injured players will be back in Buffalo (Thursday)," Green said, adding another positive note.

Defensemen Pat Ribble and Howard Walker, recovering at home from bruised spleens suffered in Vancover Tuesday, and defenseman Rick Green, who suffered a severe groin pull in Pittsburgh Jan. 31, are likely to return. It is possible that center Guy Charron, who dislocated his left shoulder in Calgary Thursday, could be back, too.

The fastest recovery of all was made by goalie Mike Palmateer, who strained ligaments in his left ankle in Vancouver and was back on the ice to make 23 saves against the speedy Kings. Palmateer had difficulty moving from side to side and he somewhat restricted his usual wandering around the ice, but he made some big stops and obviously was an inspiration to his teammates.

"On that second goal of (Marcel) Dionne's (the Kings' fourth goal), 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 otherwise the ankle held up fine. Billy Bozak did a good job taping it up."

Palmateer had not intended to skate again until the team returned home, but after Dave Parro's shoulder was dislocated Thursday, Palmateer volunteered to face the Kings. He came out only briefly for the pregame 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."

This was only the second time in 25 games that the Kings failed to win after taking a lead into the final period. They were outshot by Washington, 14-6, over the final 20 minutes.

When the Capitals flew out early this morning, Mike Gartner and Wes Jarvis was left behind. This time, however, it was not an injury problem. Gartner, who has scored a point in eight straight games, will play in Tuesday's NHL All-Star Game. Jarvis, as a substitute for Rick Green, will represent the Capitals in the players association meetings here during the all-star break.