The Buffalo Sabres, who own the best power play in the National Hockey League, were awarded an extra-man chance with 2 minutes 12 seconds left in a 2-2 tie tonight. They took full advantage.
Brent Peterson's goal with 45 seconds remaining gave the Sabres a 3-2 victory and extended the most impressive unbeaten streak in hockey. Buffalo Coach Scotty Bowman has not lost to Washington in 45 meetings; this was his 42nd victory.
The Capitals get another shot to defeat one of Bowman's clubs Saturday night, when the teams meet in a return engagement at Capital Centre. Washington's chances should be brighter, since Buffalo is only 1-6-1 on the road, although unbeaten in nine home games.
The winning goal occurred after Washington defenseman Rod Langway blocked a shot from the point by Mike Ramsey. The puck lay behind Langway and Craig Ramsay shoved it to Peterson, who beat a scrambling Pat Riggin from close range.
Naturally, the Capitals were unhappy about the penalty that set it up. They felt referee Don Koharski had ignored countless violations before he whistled Mike Gartner off for hooking Gilles Hamel.
"There were all kinds of penalties that could have been called that weren't called, and here he calls one that was after the fact," Washington Coach Bryan Murray said. "I think the whistle had blown; certainly, it didn't affect the play."
"I didn't really hook him down," Gartner said. "I gave him a pull as he went by me, trying to slow him down. The defenseman was coming over. It wasn't a case where I had to foul him to prevent a goal. He didn't go down until he took two more strides and it must have been four seconds after it happened that he (Koharski) called the penalty. That sort of thing went on all night, and it's not called until late in the game."
Asked if he was surprised by the call, Bowman said, "No, I think the guy was going in (to shoot)." Obviously, Koharski felt the same way.
Bowman, whose 689th career victory brought him within one of Dick Irvin's NHL record, denied that he had engineered a controversial faceoff in the Washington end, with Riggin out for a sixth skater and 32 seconds remaining.
After Washington called time, Peterson twice banged into Doug Jarvis before the puck could be dropped. When all the players became involved in the second incident, the faceoff was moved outside the zone. It was in accordance with a rule decreeing such a shift of the drop if the offensive team's defensemen move into the circle during a stoppage in play.
The Capitals did not get the puck back into the Buffalo zone until Paul Gardner attempted a harmless shot as the buzzer sounded.
"There's no question, they did it deliberately," Murray said. "Brent Peterson was facing off against Doug Jarvis all night and as soon as the puck is dropped, he's got his stick in Dougie's face. Then he did it again. You can't tell me they didn't discuss it during our timeout. The referee and linesmen have to use some common sense."
Jarvis, however, disagreed with his boss, saying, "I think it was just a situation where their centerman was taking as much advantage as he could. The linesmen were ready to kick us both out."
If his teammates had not felt compelled to assist Jarvis, the Capitals would have had an advantage, because they had another center, Bob Carpenter, available to move in had Jarvis been bounced from the faceoff.
Carpenter scored both goals for the Capitals, whose winless streak reached five games. It was only the second time this season that Washington never led in a game.
Ric Seiling, left unguarded in front, put Buffalo ahead by converting Sean McKenna's perfect pass out of the right wing corner.
Carpenter tied it on a power play with 21 seconds left in the first period. After Buffalo goalie Bob Sauve blocked a drive by Langway, the puck was loose in front for several seconds and Carpenter was able to shove it in. Carpenter was off for interference when a second-period shot by Buffalo's Bill Hajt struck Washington defenseman Peter Andersson, who was wrestling in front with Hamel, and deflected past Riggin.
Carpenter tied it again with 8:28 left in regulation time. Jarvis made a superb pass from the left wing boards to Gartner at the right post. With plenty of net showing, he flubbed the shot, but the puck went across the crease to Carpenter at the other post for a tap-in.
"A lot of times when it comes across like that, as a right-hand shot I'm too strong," Gartner said. "I was too strong that time, but fortunately, Bobby was right there."
Gartner's two assists extended his scoring streak to 14 games, three short of his club record.
Buffalo, which has had at least one power play goal in all 17 games this season, improved its league-leading mark to 38.4 percent with a two-for-three effort tonight. Washington's penalty killing, which ranks last, dropped to 66.2 percent.