These third-period comebacks are becoming a habit for the suddenly inspired Washington Capitals.

In one of their finest efforts, the Capitals on Wednesday night overcame a 4-1 deficit and scored with 10 seconds to play to tie powerful Edmonton. Tonight they erased another 4-1 disadvantage, against the Detroit Red Wings, and gained another tie, 5-5.

Dennis Maruk, scorer of the tying goal against the Oilers, again sparked the rally, scoring two goals and assisting on the last, by Chris Valentine, with 7:07 remaining. That fourth straight Capital goal gave the visitors a 5-4 lead, but the Wings' Mark Kirton netted the final tie maker at 3:04.

"We just kept forcing the action," Maruk said. "The guys feel good about coming back again and getting a point. We've just got to start playing better at the beginning."

Although Washington Coach Bryan Murray expressed pleasure with the successive-game comebacks, he was equally puzzled at the team's ineffectiveness early in the game.

"We just stood around for most of the first period," he said, referring to Detroit's three goals in the opening period. "It was the same way against Edmonton. I don't know if it's the way we prepare or what, but we can't afford to keeping falling behind early, especially with the Islanders coming up."

The Capitals, now with three ties in their last four games, return home to take on the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders Sunday at Capital Centre (WTOP-1500 at 7:30).

Maruk ignited the late charge with a power play goal with 12:27 to play. Less than two minutes later, he scored with a high, hard shot from the right side after taking a pass from Jim McTaggart. That was Maruk's 33rd goal this season.

The Capitals caught up at 4-4 with 7:39 remaining when Bob Gould picked up a loose puck and backhanded it in. Boos rose from the crowd of 10,442 at Joe Louis Arena.

It took just 32 seconds for the surging visitors to take the lead. Valentine got a pass from Maruk, broke away and came in on the left side. He faked, then pushed the puck past a prone Bob Sauve, who had been outstanding in goal for two periods.

The Capitals could not protect their advantage, however. Detroit's Kirton took a pass in front of the goal and slapped it in.

"It's too bad we couldn't hold the lead, but I thought their last goal was lucky," Maruk said. "They kind of sat on their lead and then couldn't get going again. I thought once we got the lead, we had 'em."

When the game started it seemed as if some of the Capitals had not hear the opening whistle or still were thawing from the minus-5 degrees outside. It took the Red Wings 18 seconds to score.

All-star left wing John Ogrodnick broke past Darren Veitch and came in alone on goalie Dave Parro (33 saves). Ogrodnick faked left, skated in front of the goal and backhanded it into the net.

"We were playing a system, trying to determine how they were going to play, and when one guy lets up, the whole thing falls apart," Maruk explained.

After Ryan Walter scored on a Washington power play, the Red Wings came back with two goals in 44 seconds for a 3-1 lead at the period.

The Capitals played much better in the second period, outshooting the Red Wings, 12-9, but could not get anything past Sauve. Obtained from Buffalo Dec. 2, he has started all but one Detroit game since.

Detroit picked up its fourth goal midway through the period. Reed Larson, the high-scoring defenseman, weaved through two defenders, faked twice at the mouth of the goal and pushed the puck past Parro for his 13th goal of the season. He needs one more to become the third defenseman in Red Wing history to score 100 goals.