Two teams desperately searching for a victory frustrated each other tonight. The Washington Capitals' winless streak stretched to three games, the New Jersey Devils' somewhat lengthier string to seven in a 2-2 overtime tie.
Although New Jersey put two of the three shots on goal in the five-minute extra period, the Capitals had the best chance. Bob Carpenter was inches wide of the net on a setup by Mike Gartner.
"It was so close," said Carpenter, who also lost control of the puck on a second-period breakaway. "It slipped through his (goalie Ron Low's) legs and went right by the post. This just hasn't been our week."
While the Capitals were salvaging their only point of a three-game week, however, two players were making bids for greater roles in the club's future. The goal scorers were Paul Gardner, completing the finale of what was scheduled as a five-game tryout, and Gary Sampson, elevated to the No. 1 line with Carpenter and Mike Gartner.
Gardner netted the only goal of the first period, on a power play with Mel Bridgman off for elbowing. Gartner and Carpenter hacked at the puck in front of the net and it slid to Gardner near the right post. He sent it under Low's left pad for his second goal since being recalled from Binghamton Oct. 30.
"I had to score one by 8:30," Gardner said. "My son (Scott, not quite 3) goes to bed then and I wanted him to see me get a goal. I don't know what happens now. I'm just trying to help out the hockey team and get a chance to contribute. I'm happy with my ice time and playing on all the power plays, and hopefully I'll stay."
Sampson had been Gaetan Duchesne's replacement on the Gee Whiz Line since being recalled from Binghamton Oct. 12. Tonight, dissatisfied with the lack of defensive responsibility shown by the No. 1 line in the 8-5 loss to Edmonton Friday, Coach Bryan Murray put Sampson there to keep things honest.
Not only did he perform as ordered, Sampson joined the offense, too. Eighteen seconds after Tim Higgins' power play goal pulled the Devils even in the second period, Sampson regained the lead for Washington.
He scored his fifth goal by leaving his feet and diving to reach out with his stick for a puck lying in the crease, after Low had moved out to block a drive by Scott Stevens.
"I tipped it first and it went back of Carpy's leg," Sampson said. "Carpy tied up their guy and the puck was just lying there. Their guy tried to tie me up, so when I got a few feet away from it I just dove.
"It's a lot different playing with Carpy and Garts. It'll take more than a game to get used to it. But I liked it a lot and it makes me feel good that they think enough of me to give me a shot there."
Gartner assisted on both goals to extend his point-scoring streak to 12 games.
Carpenter's breakaway came shortly after Sampson's goal. The Devils were so badly beaten on the play that Sampson was the nearest player to Carpenter. "I faked him (Low) out, but I lost it," Carpenter said. "The ice was bad and the puck hopped right over the stick."
Before that shift ended, Carpenter tripped Mitch Wilson. Then Craig Laughlin slashed Higgins to give the Devils a two-man advantage for 53 seconds.
It took the Devils 39 seconds to launch a shot, but when they did it paid off, Doug Sulliman beating Pat Riggin on the short side from the left wing circle. It was Sulliman's sixth goal, three having come on power plays against Washington.
In the remaining 37 minutes, both teams had some excellent opportunities, but Riggin and Low kept the net clear, except for a meaningless shot by Laughlin seven minutes into the third period. Before Laughlin shot, referee Ron Hoggarth called an offensive-zone trip by Lou Franceschetti. "I enjoyed that second; it felt good to score a goal, even if it didn't count," said Laughlin, who has scored only one this season.
As if Carpenter didn't have enough trouble, he was tripped by Phil Russell and slid into the boards early in the third period, jamming his left wrist and no doubt scaring television viewers back home.
"I lost my balance and I threw my arm out as I went into the boards," Carpenter said. "My wrist turned against the boards and it was numb for a few minutes, but it's okay now."
The Capitals remained at the .500 mark with a 5-5-3 record and maintained their history of never losing to New Jersey. This was the fourth tie in 16 meetings.