The Washington Capitals tried to nurse a 2-1 lead through the third period tonight. Instead, they wound up feeling a little sick when Jeff Larmer's goal with 7:45 remaining enabled the New Jersey Devils to escape with a 2-2 tie.
Larmer, a junior teammate of Washington's Scott Stevens last year at Kitchener, squirmed between Stevens and Craig Laughlin along the right wing boards and fired a 30-footer that eluded diving Brian Engblom and beat goalie Pat Riggin on the short side.
The goal, which sent an enthusiastic crowd of 10,273 home happy despite the extension of the Devils' winless streak to 10 games, was New Jersey's only threat of the period. Nevertheless, combined with the brilliant goaltending of veteran Chico Resch, it was enough to keep the Devils in fourth place in the Patrick Division, one point ahead of Washington.
"We became so conscious of playing defense, we didn't take any chances at all," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We figured they'd press and we'd get some two on ones. We did get two, but we didn't finish them."
Resch, playing in his 12th straight game despite a pulled muscle in his left arm, had a lot to do with the absence of a finishing touch. Moments before Larmer broke loose, Resch foiled a Bobby Carpenter breakaway and Alan Haworth's rebound. With three minutes left, he stopped Doug Jarvis at close range to preserve the tie.
Resch's most memorable moments, however, came late in the second period. First, Resch blocked a shot by Mike Gartner flying down the right wing. When Gartner retrieved the puck and came around from behind to shoot into the vacated net, Resch reached out with his stick and deflected it. Then, he was able to smother Bobby Carpenter's rebound.
"I can't believe he didn't get it up," Resch said. "My stick was on its side, so it wasn't any thicker than the puck. I know Mike must feel terrible that he didn't lift it. And then it bounced off my stick right onto the guy coming in, and luckily my arm came down on it. That's the way it is in sports. Sometimes you get more luck than you deserve."
"All I saw was the open net, then his stick was there," Gartner said. "I suppose you can say I should have lifted it, but I wouldn't have normally. When you come around to stuff it, you don't take your time and make the fancy shot. That would have put us up, 3-1, and they probably wouldn't have caught us, but he made good saves all night long."
Resch stopped all 11 Washington shots in the first period and New Jersey took a 1-0 lead on a power play goal by Hector Marini. The former Islander utility man notched his eighth goal when he deflected Tapio Levo's drive from the right point.
Washington moved in front on second-period scores by Bobby Gould and Ken Houston. Gould's fourth of the season was set up by Glen Currie, who dug the puck loose along the left wing boards and fed him in front. Houston's seventh came on a power play deflection of a shot by Carpenter.
The Capitals surrendered the momentum by turning conservative for the last period. They did not fire a shot at Resch for 12 minutes, until the goalie made the back-to-back stops on Carpenter and Haworth. Then play shifted to the other end and Larmer's score was the result.
"I talked to Jeff before the game," Stevens said. "It's nice to see the old guys. He jumps around and he's hard to hit. He's a deceiving player. He was being checked, so I went for the puck, but I missed it and he broke away from the check and picked it up. He was a good shooter in junior and he got off a good one there."
The game featured hard hits throughout and occasionally the victims resorted to extracurricular activity. A second-period bout between the Devils' Yvon Vautour and Washington's Gaetan Duchesne expanded when John Wensink of New Jersey and the Capitals' Randy Holt started swinging. Wensink and Holt were ejected and each team was assessed a $1,000 fine for failing to obey referee Dave Newell's instructions not to expand the melee.