Three goals behind after eight minutes, the Washington Capitals rallied tonight to tie the Minnesota North Stars, 4-4, Darren Veitch scoring with 45 seconds left after goalie Mike Palmateer had been pulled for a sixth skater.
Dennis Maruk, as usual, won the big faceoff, outdrawing Bobby Smith in the Minnesota end following an icing violation by the North Stars. The puck skipped off Bengt Gustafsson's stick back to Maruk, who passed to Veitch at the right point. Veitch sent his second goal of the game past Minnesota goalie Gilles Meloche and elated Capitals were pounding each other's backs in jubilation.
In stretching their undefeated streak to six games, the Capitals played, for 52 minutes at least, their best road game in history. They set a team record for shots away from home, sending 49 at Meloche. The previous road mark of 41 was set in Toronto in March.
Thirty-five of those shots came in the last two periods, while the North Stars were testing Palmateer only 18 times and scoring once.
"They showed a lot of character," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray, 4-1-2 since replacing Gary Green on Nov. 11. "That comeback was the biggest thing I've seen from this team so far. When you're down 3-0, it's easy to quit, easy to find excuses, to say, 'They're too good for us right now.'
"Meloche was remarkable. If he doesn't play outstanding, we walk out of here with six or seven goals. But we were persistent. And conditioning certainly became a factor in the third period."
Minnesota came out strong and built its 3-0 advantage on goals by Steve Payne, Steve Christoff and Dino Ciccarelli within a stretch of 3 minutes 18 seconds. It could have been more, except for a remarkable effort by defenseman Rick Green.
Palmateer, starting because Dave Parro was injured in the morning practice, caught a shot and skated up the slot. He dropped the puck and tried to clear it, but hit a teammate instead, and Green moved in front to block two testing shots before Palmateer could scramble back.
"After the first period, we knew we were in the game still," Maruk said. "We were getting good scoring chances. It was just a matter of when the first one would come. It did, and it started us going."
The first one came off the stick of Bobby Carpenter, who beat Meloche with a backhander following Mike Gartner's setup pass from behind the net at 9:44 of the second period.
With Minnesota's Kevin Maxwell off for tripping, Maruk's power-play score pulled the Capitals to 3-2 at 11:07. Maruk put in a rebound of Veitch's shot from the point for his 16th goal and ninth in the last seven games.
The North Stars awoke briefly and, with Gartner in the penalty box for cross-checking, Ciccarelli got his second goal of the game, deflecting Craig Hartsburg's drive.
The Capitals were dominating the play, though, and they continued to press in the third period.
"I just asked Palmateer to give us a shutout period and I thought we'd get to them," Murray said. "He wasn't severely tested, but he kept everything out, and we did come back."
With Minnesota's Curt Giles off for holding, the Washington power play scored with 11:44 left to make it 4-3. Lou Franceschetti battled to maintain position in front of the net and deflected Veitch's shot past Meloche, although Veitch received credit for the goal.
Palmateer made an excellent save on Hartsburg's shot and Brad Palmer's rebound before he went to the bench during a Washington timeout with 1:29 remaining. The Capitals failed to finish a couple of good chances before the North Stars iced the puck with 49 seconds remaining, and Maruk and Veitch took care of the rest.
"PeeWee (Maruk) has been winning all the key faceoffs, so I told him just to win the draw back to me and go to the net," Veitch said. "He did, and guys were coming out at me, so I just shot at the net. I didn't see the goalie, but it went right in clean. What else is there to say?"
"Hurrah," Alan Hangsleben said, answering that question in the only manner possible.
"This was a big, big point for us, coming against one of the best teams in the league," Maruk said. "We were the underdogs and we fell way behind, but we came back and pulled out a tie. When we're coming up to playoff time, we'll remember this night."
Three weeks ago, at Capital Centre, the North Stars destroyed the Capitals, 6-1, prompting the firings of Max McNab and Gary Green. Any resemblance between that Washington team and the one tonight was purely a matter of names.
Parro was struck in the left shoulder by a Gartner shot and had little feeling in his fingers. Although in pain, he dressed as the backup goalie because nobody else was available at such short notice.
Earlier today, defenseman Pat Ribble cleared waivers and was sent to Calgary as an adjunct to the Randy Holt-Bob Gould deal; the Flames also will receive a draft choice. Rookie center Jim McGeough was returned to his junior team in Billings, Mont.