It was Friday the 13th, the Capitals had lost 13 straight and history showed they never had won in 13 games played on the 13th of the month. So, naturally, they overcame the various hexes and won, right? Not quite.
After building a 3-1 lead in the first 10 minutes, the Capitals were shut out the rest of the game by rookie goalie Corrado Micalef and the Detroit Red Wings rallied to earn a 3-3 tie.
John Ogrodnick evened it with 4:29 left, two minutes after an apparent score by Ryan Walter was wiped out by linesman Gordon Broseker's ruling of a two-line pass.
With Washington short-handed, Rick Green carried the puck out of his zone and bounced it off the side boards to Walter, who grabbed it over the red line and went on to score on a breakaway.
Broseker blew his whistle, then indicated that Green had not crossed his blueline before releasing the puck. The Capitals protested in vain, while many in the crowd of 9,434 jeered the ruling.
The Capitals play in Hartford tonight and the videotape had already been packed in the luggage for the postgame charter flight. But Coach Bryan Murray had it removed so he could watch the controversial play again.
The replay made Broseker look good. Green clearly was short of the blueline when he passed the puck and, although it appeared possible that a Detroit player had tipped it along the boards, it seemed unlikely.
"It seemed to me it hit a stick in front of our bench," Murray said, but after watching the replay he conceded it probably had not.
Following that setback, the Capitals figured to blow the lead, and they did. Tim Tookey, who had been dominating Detroit's Dale McCourt on faceoffs, lost one to McCourt in the Washington end and Ogrodnick immediately shot from the outer edge of the right-wing circle, scoring off the stick of goalie Mike Palmateer.
Palmateer made good saves on Mike Foligno and Mark Kirton to preserve the tie, then Capitals' fans had one last high spot, as Dennis Maruk broke loose with 20 seconds left, only to carry the puck past the net.
Washington took a 2-0 lead on power-play goals by Tookey and Maruk, then the extra-man setup broke down and the fans booed the third straight failure late in the second period.
"We had worked on the power play and it was well organized at least the first couple of times," Murray said. "But after we got a couple it became an individual show."
McCourt pulled Detroit within 2-1 at the exact second a penalty against the Capitals' Jay Johnston was due to expire. But Walter got that back at 9:29 of the first period, after Micalef misplayed a centering pass by Bengt Gustafsson that leaked through onto the net.
Mike Blaisdell, who scored 71 goals for Murray with the Regina Pats two years ago, netted his seventh of the season early in the second period, deflecting Foligno's drive from the right-wing boards.
It stayed 3-2 until Ogrodnick spoiled things.
"We knew we were the only team they beat this year and they beat us the end of last year, too," Ogrodnick said. "We don't want to get a bad reputation."
The Capitals had only 13 shots in the last two periods at Micalef, 20, who was starting because regular Gilles Gilbert has a bruised arm. They had that many in the first 20 minutes.
"Part of conditioning is mental conditioning and when we were well ahead, it was almost like they (the players) were wondering what would happen to us this time," Murray said. "We should at least be skating with that hockey team throughout three periods."
Murray shifted Bobby Carpenter to left wing for the first time, after the youngster had played the first 15 games at center. Carpenter managed only one shot on goal, when he had been averaging 3 1/2.
"He played well in training camp, but his play has declined to a degree," Murray said. "He's been trying to do too much. A few hockey games on the wing and he'll make a major contribution. When he has his confidence again, I'll put him back at center."
"He's trying to help us and I'm willing to do anything for the team," said Carpenter, who denied feeling any pressure at center.