The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals skated to a 4-4 tie last night that left them tied for third place in the Patrick Division.
The Rangers did it with two periods of swift skating and solid forechecking. The Capitals did it with two goals in the last four minutes by Mike Gartner and Brian Engblom that started a somber crowd of 12,551 screaming at Capital Centre.
The tie extended the Capitals' unbeaten streak to eight games, a club record. They have lost only twice in their last 16 games and have not been beaten in their last 10 games at home.
All those remarkable runs of good fortune seemed destined to end when the Capitals, trailing, 4-2, were forced to kill a penalty against Greg Theberge with only 5:47 remaining.
One second after the penalty ended, however, Gartner skated down the right wing and beat goalie Steve Weeks on the short side for his 18th of the season.
"He was cheating on me," Gartner said. "A couple of times before I went for the lower left corner and he stopped it. So I figured he was cheating and that time I went short side.
"We had confidence that if we worked hard it was possible to pull out a tie. The way the breaks were going the first two periods, who knows? I guess you could say they evened out."
Trailing 4-3, the Capitals poured into the Rangers' end. It appeared that New York would clear the zone when Reijo Ruotsalainen shoved the puck up the right-side boards toward Ron Duguay, but the puck slipped past Duguay and was blocked at the blueline by Engblom. Without hesitation, he sent a shot through a crowd and into the net with 1:48 left.
"PeeWee (Dennis Maruk) and Milan (Novy) and Kenny Houston were putting a lot of pressure on them," Engblom said. "You could see the Rangers' players thinking, 'Let's get it out of here as fast as we can.'
"The puck came off the boards and it was spinning a little bit. I didn't have time to stop it, because Duguay was only five or six feet away. I just shot, tried to keep it low, and everything seemed to open up. It went in, right on the ice. I don't think he (Weeks) ever saw it."
The Rangers outshot the Capitals, 21-13, over the first 40 minutes and took a 3-1 lead by scoring in every possible manner in the second period.
Dave Silk got his first goal this season with his team at even strength and fellow Olympic hero Rob McClanahan scored with the Rangers shorthanded. Then Duguay deflected Mark Pavelich's drive on a power play. There was much argument about that one, as only goal judge Ed Pantalone saw what happened.
"It hit one post, caromed off the centerpiece, hit the other post and went out," Pantalone explained. "I've never seen that happen before. It must be because of the way they've blunted the centerpiece since Mark Howe got hurt on one last year."
Early in the third period, Bobby Carpenter brought Washington within a goal, but when Duguay scored again, following sharp passing with McClanahan at 11:46, it appeared the Capitals' streaks were ending.
"They outplayed us most of the game, so we'll take that point and be happy with it," Engblom said. "That's the best we've been forechecked all year. We skated miles and didn't accomplish anything."
"In the third period, the guys we had were missing persons out there," New York Coach Herb Brooks said. "We're awful close to the FBI here. Maybe we should have called them and tried to find some guys. Maybe if we do find them, we'll let them sit in the stands."
One who can swear there were opponents on the ice was Rod Langway, twice whacked in the face by Rangers' sticks without penalty called.