The Washington Capitals dug themselves out of a deep hole tonight. Then Danny Gare shoved them back into it.
Gare's 14th goal of the season with 1:55 remaining gave the Detroit Red Wings a 4-3 victory, ending Washington's seven-game winning streak.
Gare's shot from the outer edge of the right wing circle struck the stick of defender Scott Stevens and changed course, so that instead of gloving it, goaltender Bob Mason got only a touch.
"I had him way outside at a bad angle," Stevens said. "But he got the shot off and I got a piece of it and it changed direction."
"It moved a lot after it hit Scotty's stick, but I should have had it," said Mason, who had a personal eight-game winning streak ended. "I got a piece of it with my glove, but it got by me."
Bob Carpenter's 39th goal had pulled the Capitals even with 6:13 remaining, after they had trailed by 2-0 and 3-1. It was one of three controversial goals in the game, with Detroit scoring the other two.
Carpenter's stick was up near his shoulder when he deflected Mike McEwen's long drive past goalie Corrado Micalef. Although the Red Wings protested, referee Mike Noeth allowed the goal.
"I wasn't even sure I touched it, but the goalie and their bench were yelling, 'High stick,' so I guess I did," Carpenter said. "My stick was up there. It was pretty close. When you've got your back to a guy and he hits you and you feel something, you don't know whether it's him or the puck."
This was the Capitals' first loss in 12 games against Norris Division opponents and only their fifth defeat in the last 32 games. It was also their worst performance since Christmas.
"We were tired going in," Coach Bryan Murray said. "For two periods, we didn't play well at all. They got so many breakaways. What I'm trying to get them to understand is that they play so hard on the weekend, but each game is only two points if you win, and then play like this and don't get two points we should get."
Dwight Foster scored twice in the first period for a 2-0 Detroit lead. Mason had to make a half-dozen tough saves to keep it that close against a mediocre team that was winning for only the second time in 16 games.
The first came while the Wings were short-handed -- Reed Larson having carved a four-stitch signature on Glen Currie's nose -- and it provoked some argument.
McEwen was coming out from behind his net when Bob Manno relieved him of the puck with a reach from behind. McEwen fell and the puck slid to Foster, who put it between Mason's legs.
"Something took my feet out from under me," McEwen said. "I knew I had him beat and the next thing I knew I was on the ice. I fell on my arm and I couldn't get the stick free to do anything."
With 16 seconds left in the period, Manno's quick pass found Foster alone at the right post. He put it in in before Mason could move.
Micalef made outstanding saves on Craig Laughlin and Mike Gartner before McEwen halved the deficit midway through the second period. His shot from the left point struck a Detroit stick and sailed past Micalef.
For the rest of the period, Mason had more trouble with opposing players than with the puck. First Gerard Gallant, knocked off balance by Washington's Peter Andersson, crashed into Mason and flattened him. That prompted Rod Langway and Greg Adams to pursue Gallant, with Langway receiving a minor penalty and Adams being ejected as the third man in the altercation.
Then, after Mason blocked a shot by Larson, Foster knocked Carpenter into him. The goalie was pinned underneath the pile while Larson swooped in and scored.
"Bobby made the first save and I kicked it away," Carpenter said. "Then the guy cross-checks me into Bobby and the next thing I know I'm lying there on top of him."
"The guy pushes our defense into me and takes me out of the play," Mason said. "If that isn't interference, I don't know what is."
With 34 seconds left in the period, it was the Capitals' turn to get a boost before the buzzer. Laughlin moved in from the left wing circle, faked defenseman Colin Campbell to the ice and fed Gaetan Duchesne in front to make it 3-2.
Before Carpenter tied it in the third period, Stevens and Larson engaged in a lengthy fight. Then, while Stevens sat in the penalty box, a fan came down and taunted him. Stevens motioned him to come closer, but security guards got there first and hauled the fan away.
On their last visit here three weeks ago, the Capitals had fallen behind, 2-0, and fought back to win, 4-2. Rallying again tonight, they came up short.
"When we get down by two goals, it's an ordeal," Murray said. "We have to struggle to come back. But we'd gone seven in a row and we know there's a time in the year when we might lose a game or two."