The Washington Capitals found half a loaf remarkably good eating yesterday. Two third-period goals by rookie Tim Tookey and a capable goaltending effort by veteran Gary Inness helped the Capitals rally from a 3-1 deficit to tie the first-place St. Louis Blues, 3-3.
The tie gave the Capitals 61 points as they remained in 17th place, one point behind Toronto for the 16th and final playoff berth.
Except for give members of the Capitals Punishment Club, who chose to hide their heads in paper bags, the Capital center audience of 12,619 maintained a positive note from start to finish.
A loud chant of "Ga-ree, Ga-ree" greeted Inness before the anthem and the 31-year-old netminder, playing his first NHL game since Dec. 12, 1979, responded with a 30-save effort. Inness blocked the first 20 St. Louis shots, then closed the contest with a pair of key stops on Blair Chapman to preserve the tie.
"I'm really proud of Inch (Inness) and I'm happy for him," said Washington captain Ryan Walter. "To come up with all that pressure and perform like that, that's fabulous."
Larry Patey finally beat Inness on a 30-footer from the left-wing circle on the Blues' 21st shot, at 8:16 of the second period. Dennis Maruk matched it 1 minute 16 seconds later with his 43rd goal, but the Blues regained the lead on Brian Sutter's power-play score.
Walter hit a post on a breakaway late in the second period -- Maruk had met the same fate earlier -- and St. Louis goalie Mike Liut was frustrating some other good chances. So when Wayne Babych's 60-footer deflected off the stick of Washington defenseman Rick Green and sailed over Inness' shoulder at 1:50 of the third period, it could have been quitting time for the struggling Capitals.
instead, Wasington outplayed the Blues much of the third period. A tripping penalty to the Blues' Jorgen Pettersson provided an opening and Tookey netted his fourth NHL goal on the ensuing power play, converting Mike Gartner's pass from behind the net with 7:13 left.
That earned Tookey a regular shift and he made the most of it by scoring again with 4:05 remaining. The Blues passed the puck around the boards behind their goal and Walter wiped out Sutter, leaving Rick Smith open to cut off the puck. Smith passed into the slot and Tookey deflected the puck high over Liut.
"Even when it was 3-1, the bench was still up and everybody still wanted to go out and get it," Tookey said. "All night we seemed to be hitting posts, but then they threw me in and got a lucky break."
Everybody could have used a bag over his head when the Blues won two straight faceoffs in the Capitals' end in the last 21 seconds. Each time Bernie Federko outdrew Glen Currie and set up Chapman, who fired two testing shots that Inness handled to save the point so vital to Washington's playoff chances.
"He hit that first one as it was flipping on edge and it caught Rick Smith on the ankle," Inness said. "It was heading low on the right side, then went the other way and I reacted -- maybe just slowly enough not to go too far -- and got it on my leg pad. The next time, Rick got out of the way and I could see the shot coming. He really gunned it, but I got it with my stick."
Inness could not remember the last time he played two games in a row, so infrequent has been his employment by the Capitals, but he probably will be asked to try again tonight, when the injury-riddled Montreal Canadiens visit Capital Centre for a 7 p.m. contest without Guy Lafleur, Pierre Mondou and Steve Shutt.
"My legs are sore and I'm drained," Inness said. "I guess it's part emotion, part physical. I don't know how I'll be tomorrow, but if I'm told to play, I'll play. I've always done what I've been told."
Most of the time the Capitals have chosen to sit him in the stands or to play in Hershey, but so desperate is their situation now they will probably use him just as long as he can stand.
"We needed the win today and we needed it badly," said Coach Gary Greene. "But the point is important and coming against the No. 1 team it's a confidence builder. I had hoped we'd get three points this weekend and with a big effort tomorrow we can still come out with our heads up."
Inness can keep his head up no matter what follows, after surviving a moment of truth 15 seconds into the game. Patey drilled a 40-footer that struck Inness' glove and fell behind him. He covered up as it lay perilously close to the goal line.
"I kind of juggled it and I wasn't sure where it was," Inness said, "I saw their guy there, so I know it was loose and I was able to cover it up.
"I was nervous, but I got into it pretty quick. It's an easier step coming up than going down. The adrenaline is pumping, you have something to prove and you want to do well. Playing the top club, you have to be ready or they'll put you in row 40.
"That chant before the game meant added pressure, because you know things can turn around quickly. It added a little more emotion at the start. It was nice to hear, but I like it better at the end, because you know you've earned it."
Gartner's assist on Tookey's first goal extended his scoring streak to at least one point in 11 straight games, breaking Robert Picard's 1978-79 mark. Picard returns in a Montreal uniform tonight, when the goal is to break the Capitals' four-game winless streak.