Goaltender Al Jensen sat just inside the door to the visitors' tiny dressing room at the Civic Center, accepting congratulations.

Offering handshakes and kind words were General Manager David Poile, Coach Bryan Murray and assistant coach Terry Murray of the Washington Capitals. Joining in was Emile Francis, general manager of the Hartford Whalers, who own the Binghamton franchise that Jensen had just led to a 4-2 victory over Baltimore.

Jensen, whose usual reaction after a success is to praise his teammates, could not hide a smile this time. In his first game since Nov. 13, he had been surprisingly sharp behind a team that emerged a winner despite being outshot, 34-18.

"I hadn't been in a game situation for a long time and it did feel strange at first," Jensen said. "As the game went on, I felt more comfortable. I felt good, I felt confident and I'm in shape. I was so happy to get back after so long."

A year ago, Jensen was headed toward a starting role in the NHL All-Star Game. Then he injured his back lifting weights and, after a lengthy rehabilitation period, found himself in Baltimore March 7, playing for the Hershey Bears. He lost that one, 6-3.

"I thought of that before the game tonight," Jensen said. "I got bombed pretty good here last year. But this turned out to be a nice reunion."

Jensen's attempt to match the first half of the 1983-84 season turned into a rerun of the forgettable second half when he twisted a knee in an exhibition at Minnesota. After a month of painful recovery, he had a 2-1-1 record and seemed close to 100 percent condition, but he pulled a muscle below his left shoulder and was out again.

That happened in practice Nov. 18 and, for several weeks, Jensen tried everything from rest to exercise to injections. A visit to a chiropractor finally ended his agony.

"That was my last resort," Jensen said. "He wasn't really rough with me, but he used stimulating electrodes and he cracked my back a few times. I didn't notice much difference at the time, but I felt improvement the next day and I've been fine ever since.

"I've been feeling good for a week, a week and a half. I had some good practices with (Washington goalie coach) Warren (Strelow) last week, with a lot of shooting and a lot of skating. He got me ready.

"When you're sitting, you don't feel part of the team. You try to, but it's hard. I've tried all along to keep a straight head and now I just want to work as hard as I can and see what happens."

Sunday, Jensen will be involved in a first-place battle in Rochester. If it is not the first place that really interests him, he nevertheless can be expected to do his best, and Binghamton Coach Larry Pleau is pleased to have him.

"Baltimore got a lot of shots on the power play and there were a lot of scrambles in front," Pleau said. "But our guys just went for the body and let the goaltender cover the puck. Al had a hell of a game . . . "

"Al played pretty well and he was very active," said Bryan Murray. " . . . A few times he overplayed the shooter, but it was his first game and I'm sure he wanted to be aggressive. It will take him a few games to get everything set up.

"We figure to give him three to six games here. The more he can play, the better it will be for him and, eventually, for us."