If the Washington Capitals' four-city road trip didn't end in a blaze of glory, at least it was wrapped up in a nice haze of satisfaction.
The Capitals, down 2-0, early in the game, came back to tie, briefly lead and ultimately cling to a 3-3 tie with the Edmonton Oilers.
And Wayne Gretzky, everybody's hockey hero, was scarcely a factor.
"Didn't he look great the first 10 minutes or so, and after that, nothing," said Coach Bryan Murray after the Capitals earned their second point of the western swing.
Gretzky, in fact, assisted on the game's first goal, a power-play shot by Ken Linseman at 12:34, and scored one 40 seconds into the second period. But Bobby Carpenter got the Capitals into the action just over nine minutes later. Mike Gartner and Bob Gould each scored in the last period, Gartner's tying it at 2, and Gould's giving Washington the go-ahead.
But Mark Messier, aided by Linseman, brought struggling Edmonton back into the game at 14:15.
Things could have gotten worse, and almost did when Dave Lumley tried to get an Oiler victory with just 1:47 remaining. But Randy Holt stopped the puck by falling on it, and Edmonton was awarded a penalty shot. Gretzky, naturally, was chosen to go one-on-one with goalie Pat Riggin.
"I don't know his moves, but I've seen them," Riggin said. "I know I can stop him, but I know he can score, too."
This time was a stop as Gretzky drove in, hitting the puck flat against the falling Riggin's leg, and it went shy of the net.
"I did kind of think he'd go to his left and cut back between my legs, but you just never know," Riggin said.
Asked about Gretzky's less-than-spectacular performance to- night, he added, "Yeah, but he's still some kind of hockey player."
Gretzky was philosophical. "I was glad to have the opportunity for the shot and a chance to win the hockey game," he said. "It didn't go. I'm just glad we didn't lose."
Murray was particularly pleased by his club's play. "This was more the kind of game I've been trying to get them to play," he said. "We didn't get caught too much and didn't gamble too much. We did make some mistakes."
Murray was hesitant in pinpointing the errors, but said, "In Vancouver, we were winning, 3-1, and the same guy leaves the net; tonight, on their second goal, same thing happened."
The player in question was Greg Theberge, whom Murray defended. "We brought him in to work the power play, and offensively, he's great," Murray said. "But he becomes uptight in tight defensive spots."
Murray shrugged helplessly and said he was unsure how to work out the problem.
But overall he gave his team high marks tonight. "After the second period in the locker room, I told our guys, 'We're gonna win this game,' " he said. "Edmonton had gone into a bit of a shell; they'd given up the two goals and seemed to worry so much about us, they couldn't play the game they wanted to play."
As Riggin, all smiles, provided replays of the Gretzky goal that wasn't, Gartner offered him a handshake, saying, "Top-shelf, just top-shelf save."
"Give these guys the credit," Riggin said, gesturing around him in the Capitals' locker room. "At the end of a four-game trip, we had all kinds of excuses, but they all have drive. They don't stop."
When someone asked Riggin about the penalty shot for at least the 10th time, Murray, walking past, said over his shoulder, "Say you knew all along that you had it."
Riggin grinned back. "Can't lie."