The real Pat Riggin stood tall tonight. Winless the first half of last season and the National Hockey League's best goaltender the second half, he almost single-handedly salvaged a 2-2 overtime tie for the sluggish Washington Capitals against a Philadelphia Flyers team they had beaten seven straight times.
Tim Kerr's score from the slot, off Len Hachborn's feed, produced the tie 99 seconds from the end of regulation time for the Flyers. There was some lamenting in the Capitals' dressing quarters because they had come so close to a rare opening victory.
Actually, they should have been thankful for one point. Just before the third-period buzzer, Derrick Smith of the Flyers was wide of the post by an inch or two. Then, in overtime, Brian Propp missed an almost open net at the finish of a two-on-one with Kerr.
"They had me moving pretty good there," Riggin said. "I was going back and forth. There was a lot of net showing on that one but what saved us was the ice was bad and the puck was bouncing. He couldn't get the shot off the way he wanted to."
Washington Coach Bryan Murray felt more than the ice was bad. Asked what he saw of a positive nature, Murray replied, "Well, David Shand is a great helper behind the bench."
Murray went on to add, "Rod Langway and Pat Riggin played well, but I have doubts about a lot of other people." Then he volunteered that Shand, who received the walkie-talkie information from Assistant Coach Terry Murray in the press box, would be in the lineup for Saturday's home opener against the Flyers, replacing "a member of tonight's lineup."
The likely sitting sinner is Larry Murphy, whose giveaway set up Kerr's tying goal.
There may be other changes as well. Gaetan Duchesne damaged his left hand covering the puck in the second period and will be X-rayed Friday; he might have broken a bone.
"I had no stick, so I jumped for the puck," said Duchesne, whose penalty for delay on the play put Washington two men short and led to the Flyers' first goal. "The puck hit me and then my hand went right for the boards. When I got up, the top of my hand was hurting a lot."
Craig Laughlin left after the first period when he was slashed across the nose. He needed a dozen stitches and there is the added possibility of a cracked bone.
"I got a two-hander, but it was an accident," Laughlin said. "I was back-checking and as I turned away after lifting the guy's stick, he came up with it and hit me. I tried to come out for the second period but my head was just spinning, I had no strength and I couldn't do anything."
For a real scare, Langway was walking around afterward with an ice pack on his bruised left ankle, but he said, "I'll be okay tomorrow."
Despite the negative aspects of the result, Alan Haworth put things in perspective by saying, "It was kind of sad losing a point near the end, but anything's a better start than last year."
Haworth opened the scoring by settling Dave Christian's pass with his skate, then shooting a 30-footer past goalie Pelle Lindbergh, low on the glove side.
So at the end of the first period Washington led, 1-0. A year ago, in the opener at Philadelphia, Haworth also scored for a 1-0 lead, but the Flyers rallied to win, 4-1, and the Capitals went on to lose their first seven games.
Riggin made sure that didn't happen tonight. Late in the first period, after Peter Andersson fell, the Flyers' Dave Poulin went in on a breakaway. As he cut across the front of the net, preparatory to launching a backhander, Riggin knocked the puck off his stick.
Early in the second period, when Murphy fell at the Philadelphia blueline, it opened the way for a breakaway by Brad Marsh. Although a second Flyer was the closest player to Marsh, Riggin again came up with the big stop.
While Riggin was playing well in goal, Dave Christian had several chances to put Washington two goals in front, with the possibility that the young Flyers might have folded under such a disadvantage. But Lindbergh stopped two shots by Christian and a third went wide.
The Flyers got a break when Mark Howe was tripped by Bengt Gustafsson and Duchesne's mishap left Washington two men short. Ilkka Sinisalo beat a virtually defenseless Riggin off Peter Zezel's quick pass from behind the goal line.
Early in the third period, Bob Carpenter gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead. He skated down the left wing, obtained shooting room by faking Brad McCrimmon inside and lined a shot over Lindbergh's left shoulder.
Both teams had numerous chances in the remaining 14:25 of regulation. The Flyers tried to intimidate Riggin, as he was decked by Dave Brown and Propp, then pinned against the rear boards by Zezel.
But he was not affected until Hachborn slipped down the right wing, avoided Scott Stevens' check and fed Kerr in the slot.
"If I'd made one more save, we would have won," Riggin said. But if he hadn't made 34 stops, many of them brilliant, the Capitals would have started on the wrong foot once again.