The Washington Capitals extended their club-record home-ice unbeaten streak to nine games last night by coming from behind in the third period to tie the Winnipeg Jets, 3-3, on Milan Novy's second goal.
Then, in a bizarre postgame dressing-room scene, the players sat and watched owner Abe Pollin read a statement proclaiming yet one more time that any rumors concerning a shift of the franchise are "false."
About a third of the crowd of 8,612, smallest of the season at Capital Centre, stayed to cheer Pollin's words, which were piped out of the locker room by TelScreen. Earlier, the fans had yelled even louder as the Capitals outshot the Jets, 27-10, in the first 27 minutes, only to be repeatedly foiled by Winnipeg goalie Doug Soetaert.
Washington trailed, 2-1, at that point, and managed only 10 shots in the last 33 minutes, but Dennis Maruk and Novy twice lifted the Capitals from behind. The Jets, although playing their ninth game in 13 nights and going with four defensemen after Bryan Maxwell suffered a broken hand in the first period, outhustled the Capitals down the stretch.
"Winnipeg definitely was moving the puck quicker in the third period," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Our guys put so much into it in the second period, took so many shots and got so little out of it, that they did start to hang on late in the game."
Most teams on the road, especially playing for the fourth time in five nights, will willingly settle for a tie. The Jets, however, went to four lines in the final period and repeatedly sent two men in to forecheck, digging for a possible winner.
"It was a hard-fought point," Winnipeg Coach Tom Watt said. "This was our ninth game in 13 days, but one thing we usually can do is skate, and with four lines we were able to keep going. We languished at home for a while, but the dirty guys (schedule makers) caught up to us the last two weeks."
The two teams certainly stack up on an even keel. Each has 27 points in 26 games and they have played 3-3 ties both here and in Winnipeg.
There were several abrupt turnabouts in the play. The first came when the Jets' Don Spring was penalized for tripping after 6:40 of the first period. Washington had been outshot, 5-1, to that point, but tested Soetaert eight times in the next three minutes and took a 1-0 lead on Novy's power-play rebound of Greg Theberge's slap shot.
Mistakes by defensemen Paul MacKinnon and Scott Stevens set up Winnipeg goals less than three minutes apart by Bengt Lundholm and Dave Babych. Lundholm converted Thomas Steen's pass from behind the Washington net and Babych scored on a three-on-one break off a fine feed by Dave Christian on the right wing.
"They had a three-on-one, two two-on-ones and several three-on-twos, all on easy breakouts," Murray said. "That's something we hadn't been giving up lately."
Washington outshot Winnipeg, 10-0, in the first seven minutes of the second period without success, but Maruk eventually tied the game with his 12th goal, skating in from the right-wing circle and putting a backhander inside the far post.
Doug Smail regained the lead for Winnipeg at 4:35 of the third period, netting a rebound of a shot he had knocked off the post at the right of goalie Al Jensen.
It took Washington only 50 seconds to create a 3-3 tie, as Novy deflected Stevens' drive from the left point.
The rest of the way, the Capitals flirted with trouble and it took a superb save by Jensen on a backhander by Dale Hawerchuk, off Lundholm's two-on-one feed, to keep it even.
Jensen, who blocked 20 shots, bettered his career record at Capital Centre to 13-2-4. Besides their long stretch of home-ice success, the Capitals are unbeaten in six straight overall. That is one away from matching another team record.