Six rugged periods of hockey in two nights in two towns caught up with Dave Parro tonight and the Capitals had to settle for a 5-5 tie with the New York Rangers.
"They really keep the pressure on," Parro said wearily as he sprawled in the corner of the Capitals' dressing room. "They kept coming at me all night. They can really tire a goaltender down."
The Rangers, battling Philadelphia for second place in the Patrick Division, scored four times in the last 15 minutes to overcome a 4-1 deficit and take a lead into the final two minutes.
Bengt Gustafsson saved the Capitals from a crippling blow to their fading playoff hopes by poking in a shot after a centering pass from Bobby Carpenter with 1:12 to play, for the tie and a point in the standings. Washington now trails Pittsburgh by nine points with 10 games to play.
Carpenter's assist, along with his two earlier goals, enabled the Capitals' first-round draft choice to break the team's rookie record for goals (28) and total points (60). Carpenter has 29 and 62. Carpenter needs four assists to equal Gustafsson's rookie mark of 38.
"We played two great periods of hockey, then went out for the third thinking the game was over," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We just let them have one attack after another. It was a real lack of concentration on our part.
"I thought Parro played great," he said. "On their last goal, they were jammed up on top of him and there wasn't anything he could do."
It was the end of a roller-coaster week for Parro, the 24-year-old goalie who has been splitting time with Al Jensen. He was bombed for four goals in the first period at Philadelphia and yanked a week ago Sunday. He didn't play in the important game with Pittsburgh Wednesday, but came back with an impressive performance in Saturday night's 6-3 victory over the Flyers and was outstanding against the Rangers until his supporting cast collapsed.
The Rangers dominated most of the action and outshot the Capitals, 43-26, but still were in danger of losing until their late flurry.
"We just didn't shoot the puck in the third period," Murray said, alluding to the Rangers' 20-7 advantage in the last 20 minutes. "They had a lot of power plays and even when they didn't score, they made us think defensively."
Gustafsson got the Capitals off to a quick lead when he scored at 4:21 of the first period after passes from Darren Veitch and Mike Gartner. The Rangers tied it 63 seconds later on a rebound shot by Dave Silk. At one point, the Rangers had outshot the Capitals 12-2, but they trailed, 2-1, at the end of the period after Carpenter got his 28th goal of the season, a rebound off a slap shot by Greg Theberge.
Carpenter scored again 30 seconds into the second period, pushing in a loose puck from the right side, and many in the crowd of 17,411 at Madison Square Garden started booing the home team.
Rookie Lee Norwood boosted the Capitals' advantage to 4-1 on a power play at the 3:55 mark, banging in a rebound off a shot by Veitch, and at that point it appeared that the Capitals were on their way to a third victory here this season.
Three penalties against them gave New York several opportunities to reduce their deficit, but Parro was equal to the challange and turned back every shot.
"I didn't even see some of those shots that hit me in the chest," Parro said. "They just kept coming at me and sooner of later they wear you down."
The Rangers started their surge when Mike Rogers broke away and came in all alone on Parro, slapping a shoulder-high shot into the right corner of the net.
Several other shots from point-blank range missed the mark or were turned away from Parro before Ron Duguay came out of a scramble in front of the goal and pushed in his own missed shot with 10:42 to play.