If it looked sluggish, it wasn't meant to be that way. "We just played fairly conservative hockey early," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray after his Capitals had come back from a 3-1 hole to tie the St. Louis Blues, 3-3, on goals by Craig Laughlin and Chris Valentine at 7:13 and 10:26 of the final period.
"We were concerned about not getting behind in the game, and for that first 10, maybe 20 minutes, we were careful," Murray said. "Maybe we didn't create any offense, but I felt we handled it very well."
The Capitals, who haven't lost a road game since Nov. 23 in Calgary, thus extending their away-from-home unbeaten string to 10, played a tight, short passing game and came up with 33 shots on goal to the Blues' 34.
St. Louis took a 1-0 lead near the end of the first period and didn't allow Washington into the game until halfway through the second when Glen Currie scored at 8:59.
Taking a short pass from Brian Engblom, Currie skated to a standstill in front of the net and directed the puck upward, and in.
"I thought near the end of the second period, we began taking it (the flow of the game) away from them," Murray said. "We knew if we could get into the second and third period fairly even, we'd have a heck of a chance."
The momentum did shift in the game's latter half, with the Capitals forcing play out of the Blues zone more frequently. Al Jensen, displaying his consistent brand of goaltending, could not be faulted on any of the Blues' scores.
Blair Chapman's shot from the crease at 17:26 of the first period was flicked in over Jensen as he sprawled with one leg extended to block the puck.
"Just one of those goals," was how Capitals forward Mike Gartner described it. "And (Jorgen) Pettersson's two (one in each of the following periods) were just excellent goals. The difference is, Al was in there making the stops that counted for us near the end."
With the score 3-1, thanks to Pettersson's goal at 1:35 of the final period, the Capitals did not resort to pressuring themselves into the kind of mistakes that can cost a game.
Laughlin's goal came on a power play to bring Washington to 3-2. "I was lucky to have a chance to shoot it right along the ice and get it by (goalie Mike) Liut," he said.
"We'd been told that because Liut is a big goaltender, he's mostly a stand-up type, so you can get by him by keeping it on the ice. I don't think he expected that kind of shot."
Gartner said the Capitals did not experience a real sense of alarm when the Blues' margin reached 3-1.
"If we hadn't played well, we might have, but we knew we'd done all right and that we were still in the game," he said.
"Playing well in the first and second periods gave us a definite edge. It's different when you know you haven't done anything that can make you win."
"It's not like at home," Laughlin said, explaining, "if we were at home and down, 3-1, or even 3-2, we would have been pushing and then they (opposition) would have gotten the fourth goal. Here we knew one goal would get us back in it."
Valentine's goal, set up by Laughlin and Dennis Maruk, did just that, and if it didn't make for a Capitals victory, it did affect the Blues' momentum, sending the home team into a flurry of pressing attempts that became saves by Jensen.
The Capitals were scrambling for the extra goal, too, but in a more organized fashion than the home team, which had watched its lead dwindle in half a period.
Liut had looked controlled early in the game, but seemed to lose some of his composure in the face of each Washington shot. "He didn't handle the puck as well tonight as I have seen him in the past," Gartner said, ever the diplomat.
St. Louis' Guy Lapointe left the game early in the second period after he dropped to block a shot by Engblom. Lapointe apparently took the shot on his jaw, and a report was awaited after he was taken to a hospital for X-rays.