After the noise from the 13,864 fans had subsided and the Washington Capitals and Chicago Black Hawks had reconciled themselves to a 3-3 tie, Hartford scout Ricky Ley commented, "That's the 39th game I've seen this year and it was the second best."
The two teams raced end to end, delivering jolting checks and watching goalies Pat Riggin of Washington and Tony Esposito of Chicago make seemingly impossible saves. If, in the end, there was dissatisfaction with the result, it came from the visitors' side, as they recalled two goals disallowed by referee Bruce Hood.
The first washout, at 2:12 of the second period, meant a big turnabout, because instead of enjoying a 3-1 lead the Capitals quickly found themselves in a 2-2 tie.
Washington's Alan Haworth took the puck away from Chicago's Tim Higgins in the slot in front of Esposito, pulling Higgins down in the process. Haworth then turned and lined the puck past the goaltender.
So quickly did the action take place that Hood was unable to blow his whistle before the red light was on. Belatedly, Hood signaled no goal and ordered Haworth to the penalty box. Then, with Haworth off, Chicago's Doug Crossman connected from deep in the left wing circle to tie the score.
Washington Coach Bryan Murray's display of anger was fueled not so much by the call itself, as by the remembrance that Hood had failed to penalize Chicago's Bill Gardner when he hauled down Brian Engblom on a similar play in the first period.
"I occasionally get a call from Brian O'Neill about criticizing the referees," Murray said. "Well, I wish he'd seen this one. This was our third hockey game where the ref hasn't been there. When our man is pulled down, he doesn't call it. Then he calls one that turns the game around."
Early in the third period, with Washington ahead, 3-2, Esposito stopped a shot by Doug Jarvis at the end of a three-on-one break. Jarvis grabbed the rebound and shot the puck off Ken Houston's skate into the net. Hood immediately signaled no goal, ruling that Houston had directed the puck over the line.
"I just turned my skate," Houston said. "Doug Jarvis was coming out of the corner and the defenseman had my stick, so I tried to pull away to get ready for a pass and the puck hit my skate."
Riggin, playing his best game as a Capital, seemed likely to keep Washington in front anyway, as he made a sensational save on Peter Marsh from close range and blocked some other shots that rated as only outstanding.
With 7:15 left, however, Gardner skated down the left side and set up Rick Paterson for the goal that lifted the Hawks into their fourth straight tie. Riggin and the defense were concerned about Marsh, who was in close, but Gardner fooled them with a feed to Paterson deeper in the slot.
Both teams had good chances the rest of the way as only the final buzzer stopped the end-to-end action. In the space of a few seconds, Crossman and Paterson shot wide by inches and Esposito, at the opposite goal, stopped Jarvis on a two-on-one break.
Washington trailed early, as a power play goal by Chicago defenseman Bob Murray followed Milan Novy's first NHL penalty. Bengt Gustafsson's first goal of the season, on a deflection of a shot by Engblom at 11:19 of the first period, pulled Washington even.
"It's a big relief," Gustafsson said. "Hopefully, now they'll come in clumps, maybe five or something, so I can catch up with the other guys."
Just 71 seconds later, Houston dropped a pass to Novy, who sent one over Esposito's right shoulder from the right wing circle for his third goal, the first since Oct. 10.
After Crossman made it 2-2, the Capitals utilized a three-on-two break to score a power play goal for the 10th straight game, extending the club record. Mike Gartner carried down the left side and passed to Dennis Maruk. Esposito blocked his shot, but the rebound went onto Bobby Carpenter's stick and he scored his third goal, first since Oct. 16.
"I'm so relieved it was like getting rid of stomach cramps," Carpenter said. "I had to look three or four times to make sure the light was on. I've had eight or nine chances lately, but they hit the crossbar or hit the post or the goalie makes a big save or I fan on the shot."