The Washington Capitals revitalized their playoff hopes tonight after Ryan Walter's power-play goal midway through the third period broke a tie and they went on to a 6-4 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Civic Center.
The Capitals (15-31-8) now trail Pittsburgh by 12 points for the final playoff spot in the Patrick Division. Quebec visits the Capital Centre for a 7:05 game with the Capitals Sunday night.
"This is a tremendously big game," said Capitals Coach Bryan Murray. "If we lose, we're pretty well eliminated unless they stop winning altogether. Now they have to play at Philadelphia tomorrow and we have Quebec at home. If we can close it to 10 before the All-Star Game, it's a lot, but we can do it."
Bengt Gustafsson, Walter, Mike Gartner and Dennis Maruk had scored to make it 4-4 when Pitts-burgh's Randy Carlyle was penalized for hooking at 11:12 of the third period. The Capitals scored on a power play 10 seconds later as Chris Valentine found Walter alone in the right circle for his second goal of the night and 29th of the season.
Maruk added an empty-net goal with five seconds left.
Washington goaltender Dave Parro played a big role, stopping 38 shots, including several point-blank attempts in the game's final moments.
"David played very well," Murray said. "I was disappointed when their fourth goal went right through him, but he made several great stops, especially in the last couple of minutes."
Pittsburgh rookie Pat Graham made it 1-0 after 62 seconds.
Darren Veitch nearly tied the score at 9:22, but his slap shot from the right point caught Pittsburgh goaltender Michel Dion in the mask. Dion, who will start for the Prince of Wales Conference in Tuesday's All-Star Game at Capital Centre, finished the remainder of the period, then was replaced by Nick Ricci.
Washington tied the score 29 seconds after Dion's injury on Gustafsson's 14th goal of the season. Walter made it 2-1 at 17:58 of the first period with both teams a man short.
Bobby Simpson tied the score, with eight seconds left in the first period by hitting a rebound under Parro.
After a power play by the Capitals early in the second period produced several shots but no goals, Gartner put Washington ahead, 3-2, on a slap shot over Ricci's glove at 6:58.
Pittsburgh scored its third goal when the Capitals were victimized by the rule book. When Parro skated to the bench for an equipment repair, referee Denis Morel ruled that the Capitals had to change goaltenders and assessed them a bench minor besides. Backup Al Jensen was in the net for just two shots, but it was all Pittsburgh needed, as Mike Bullard slipped a rebound by George Ferguson under Jensen to make it 3-3 at 18:22.
The Penguins scored again after an aborted Capitals' power play. Graham made his second goal of the night on a two-on-one break with fellow rookie Steve Gatzos to make it 4-3 at 5:11 of the third period.
The Capitals fought right back as Randy Holt's low drive from the left point was deflected past Ricci by Maruk to tie the game 1:39 later.