"Things like tonight happen," Coach Bryan Murray said after his Washington Capitals had scrapped back twice to tie the Hartford Whalers, 4-4. "But in the past, if Washington had gotten down, 4-2, they might have packed their bags for the trip home. Tonight, even with five minutes to go, both teams kept skating up and back."

The Capitals had to keep skating despite the absence of three forwards. Bengt Gustafsson and Milan Novy, injured against Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and Ken Houston, who had lymph nodes removed from his leg early this morning, did not play, necessitating some line juggling.

Chris Valentine, called up from Hershey for his first NHL game this season, skated with Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner, then Gartner and Dennis Maruk. It was Valentine's third-period goal, disputed by Whalers goaltender Greg Millen, that assured Washington of a point tonight.

The Whalers had taken a two-goal lead by midway through the first period, on shots by Paul Lawless and Greg Adams. Bobby Gould, assisted by Gaetan Duchesne and Glen Currie, the other members of the Kid Line, lifted the puck past Millen at 13:37.

Then Craig Laughlin scored the first of his two tonight, tying the game at 2. Bob Sullivan and Blaine Stoughton gave Hartford a 4-2 advantage, but then Laughlin came on again, and Valentine, who played in Hershey Wednesday night, tapped in the goal that earned a tie and Millen's anger.

Valentine picked up the puck from Gartner and tapped it across the goal line at 7:41. Although the puck clearly went in, and the goal judge flashed the red light, Millen skated over to referee Denis Morel to protest. He was so upset he began hitting the Plexiglas in front of the goal judge's seat.

Later, Millen admitted, "I really didn't think it was in at first, but Morel was in a good position to see, and maybe it did go in."

Washington certainly wouldn't argue that. Hartford, which had lost five straight coming into this game, was fully prepared for the Capitals.

"They're a wide-open team," said Doug Jarvis. "If you can get tight against them, you'll be okay. But once they get ahead, you have to open up to get back. They're very good at headmanning the puck, a real skating type of club."

Murray said his team probably had not played this loose a game all season. "There were a lot of chances that just weren't finished off," he said. "We had trouble sustaining forechecking, but when we did we were able to get a couple goals."

Pat Riggin, in goal for the first time since injuring an ankle against Minnesota two weeks ago, called his performance "satisfactory but by no means sharp."

"It's tough when you give one up on the first shot," he said, referring to Lawless' goal at 1:43. "I'll call the Stoughton goal a bad goal, but not the others. This was a good game for me to get back into. I've been a bit rusty--you can't keep in shape when you don't play."

Riggin credited his teammates with a solid game. "If a goal is a bad one, some clubs might hang their heads and go home," he said. "These guys go out and work that much harder."

Laughlin, who had expressed concern at his offensive output only a week ago, kept driving throughout the third period in hopes of a hat trick. "I've never, ever had three," he said. "I wanted it. I just got as much on it as I could and shot hard."

Every Capital seem to do the same throughout the last minutes of the freewheeling game, pushing for two points. With 38 seconds to go in the game, Gartner cracked his stick against the puck, lofting it over the stands and out into the lobby of the Civic Center.