Clark Gillies' goal with 70 seconds left last night let the New York Islanders escape with a 3-3 tie after the Washington Capitals and their vocal backers in a Capital Centre crowd of 12,381 could taste a second straight success over the Stanley Cup champions. Alas, Thanksgiving was over.
Until Gillies connected from the right-wing circle, Washington goalie Al Jensen had frustrated the visitors, blocking 31 shots of which 12 came in the last 10 minutes of the game.
A 2-2 tie had existed from late in the first period until Washington's Dennis Maruk shattered it with his 10th goal at 5:38 of the third. Rod Langway from the left point threaded a pass to Maruk just outside the crease and the 60-goal scorer of a year ago put the puck past all-star goalie Bill Smith.
When New York's Bob Bourne went off for a swinging reaction to a check by Gaetan Duchesne, Washington had a chance to wrap it up. Bengt Gustafsson slipped past defenseman Ken Morrow but Smith stopped his shot and an attempted rebound as well.
At the midpoint of the period, the Capitals had an 8-0 margin in shots. Then play turned completely around, as the Islanders poured on the pressure and only one Washington line -- Glen Currie, Duchesne and Bobby Gould -- succeeded in creating play in the New York end.
Jensen stopped Mike Bossy twice from the slot on one shift. He foiled a breakaway by Bob Nystrom after a steal from Gould. He blocked a drive by Anders Kallur after a giveaway by Brian Engblom. The fans were chanting "Jen-sen" and it appeared the goalie would give himself a giant postbirthday present -- he was 24 Saturday.
As Mike Gartner tried to move the puck out of the Washington zone, however, Morrow contrived to keep it in. John Tonelli relayed it to Gillies, all alone in the right-wing circle, and after a brief hesitation he put it between Jensen's pads.
"The puck was on end," Jensen said in explaining its weird trajectory. "I thought he'd shoot right away, so I tried to play my ground and it got between my legs. If I'd known he'd wait, I'd have moved out."
The Capitals, who beat the Islanders here 15 days ago, grabbed a 2-0 lead on first-period goals 58 seconds apart by Doug Jarvis and Duchesne. Jarvis rebounded a shot by Alan Haworth to climax a two-on-one break and Duchesne deflected a drive by Engblom.
New York tied by scoring twice in less than two minutes. Bossy deflected a Tomas Jonsson shot for his 21st goal, on a power play. Tonelli, after faking Langway into Section 111, beat Jensen on a breakaway.
Washington earned boos for two pitiful power plays during a scoreless second period, but there was nothing but cheers when rookie Scott Stevens performed brilliantly after Langway and Engblom were penalized early in the third.
During 30 seconds of a two-man disadvantage, Stevens broke up a threatening play in front of the net and managed to clear the puck. Then, as Engblom's sentence expired, Stevens flattened Nystrom with a solid check on which the spinning Nystrom sent Bossy tumbling, too. While the two Islanders picked themselves up, the crowd thundered its appreciation.
"Emotion is a great motivator and our guys responded to that," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray.
Smith stopped tough shots by Gartner and Bobby Carpenter before Maruk sent the pressing Capitals in front. Despite Gillies' wet blanket that prevented the Capitals from tying a club record of six straight home-ice victories, Murray was not complaining.
"We got three out of four points in our building against the New York Islanders," Murray said. "I don't think that's a downer. It comes down to playing against the Islanders and being the Washington Capitals. It's a confidence thing. We're much better when we're even or behind."
New York, its unaccustomed winless streak stretched to five games, got both its equal-strength goals from a newly assembled line of three normal left wings: Gillies, first-time center Tonelli and right wing Bourne.
"We've been struggling offensively and in a lot of other areas," said Coach Al Arbour. "So I've been shifting people around, looking for some balance and scoring. They certainly did the job tonight."