A year ago, when the Washington Capitals held a two-goal lead in the third period, the outcome no longer was in doubt. Tonight the Capitals once again were reminded that this is a new season, as the Pittsburgh Penguins rallied to gain a 3-3 tie.
Goals by Craig Laughlin and Bob Carpenter had given the Capitals a 3-1 lead and they seemed in control. However, a couple of mistakes were turned into goals by Warren Young, a 28-year-old rookie who already has 16, more than any Capital.
This was Washington's fifth tie of the young season and in each case the opposition has produced the tying goal.
"When we have a 3-1 lead with 10 minutes left, it should be all over, but we let them off the hook again," said Mike Gartner, who extended his scoring streak to 17 games, longest in the NHL this season and matching his club record of 1980-81. "That's where our problem lies this year. It's definitely a concern."
Coach Bryan Murray spent much of the day in meetings with his players, trying to shake them out of the lethargy that has accompanied the Capitals while they have won only one of seven games. The Capitals responded with 49 shots, their highest total in three seasons, attempting 21 at Denis Herron in both the second and third periods.
"I put a little pressure on some guys and maybe they were a little uptight in the first period, but from a work point of view there was good effort and overall I thought we played very well," Murray said.
"They're a much better team and when they have the puck, they play very intelligently. When we made mistakes in our end, they were right there to take advantage."
Bob Mason had an outstanding night in his first appearance of the season in the Washington nets. He stopped 33 shots and kept the Capitals in the game in the first period, which was dominated by the Penguins but ended, 1-1.
Scott Stevens' backhander from the slot sent Washington in front. Stevens was playing left wing as Murray benched center Glen Currie and gave defenseman Dave Shand his first playing time since Oct. 20. The first-period goal matched Stevens' performance the only other time he started at left wing, in an exhibition at Minnesota Oct. 2.
Pittsburgh, which had a 15-6 shooting advantage in the period, pulled even on a power play goal by Mike Bullard. It was actually a centering pass toward Wayne Babych in the crease, but it struck the stick of Stevens, who was back on defense, and caromed behind Mason.
"It was a two on one and if it gets through, it's in the net," Stevens said. "So I played the pass and it went off my stick."
After Herron's 21-save second period, a Pittsburgh record, the Capitals beat him twice in the first 4 minutes 6 seconds of the third session.
Laughlin netted his second goal of the season on a rebound of a drive by Gartner. Then Carpenter got his 15th -- he has a goal in five straight games -- from the slot on Bryan Erickson's setup.
Young reduced the deficit with 10:31 remaining, as Jim Hamilton stole the puck from Larry Murphy and passed it in front. Mason misplayed it and Young, a Michigan Tech product first drafted by California in 1975, was able to poke it in.
Gartner, who finished the game with 12 shots, had a good chance to wrap it up on a breakaway, but after he put a deke on Herron, the goalie dove out to knock the puck off his stick. "I thought he was far enough away that he couldn't get out there," Gartner said. "I had at least four real good scoring chances, but he was tough."
Pittsburgh's second power play goal produced the tie with 6:38 left in regulation time. Darren Veitch was off for holding, his second penalty of the period, and it took Young only 13 seconds to score.
Washington's Rod Langway tried to clear the puck, but he sent it right at Mario Lemieux, whose quick pass found Young open in the right wing circle. His 16th goal came on only his 36th shot.
It was a bit of a surprise that Lemieux skated at all in the third period. He caught his left leg in the ice when he was stick-checked by Veitch in the second period and was helped off. There was fear at the time that he had reinjured the left knee that bothered him during training camp.
Before he was banged up, Lemieux dazzled the crowd of 11,942 by skating through and around three Capitals while maintaining control of the puck.
Each team managed only one shot in the five-minute overtime, with Herron smothering a semibreakaway by Gartner and Mason stopping a tough shot by Andy Brickley.
"I'm very, very happy with Bob Mason's performance," Murray said. "He made some excellent stops and early in the game he gave us a chance to stay in it. He's big and strong and it's just a matter of getting games and experience."