Three times tonight the Washington Capitals, playing without team captain Rod Langway, enjoyed two-goal leads over the Winnipeg Jets. Then the high-scoring hosts poured in four straight goals for a 7-5 lead, and with seven minutes left in regulation time, many of the 12,472 fans were leaving.
They were premature. Dwight Schofield netted his first goal as a Capital with 6:56 left and Alan Haworth scored his second goal of the night with 4:33 remaining as the shootout at Winnipeg Arena ended in a 7-7 tie.
There were some shaky moments for the Capitals before it ended. Scott Stevens, a giant on defense in Langway's absence, was forced to hook Ron Wilson to prevent a breakaway with 1:17 left. Relief goaltender Al Jensen and defensemen Darren Veitch and Larry Murphy helped to fight off the Jets' potent power play, although Murphy had a few hearts pounding when he fired the puck inches wide of his own post in clearing the slot in the first minute of overtime.
Later in the five-minute extra period, Jensen was knocked into the net, but he kept the puck outside. Then he stopped Perry Turnbull from point-blank range to assure Washington an unexpected point.
"Al made a hell of a stop on Turnbull. That was the game right there," said Coach Bryan Murray, who yanked starter Pat Riggin in the second period with the Capitals ahead, 5-4, after Riggin had yielded four goals in 11 shots.
If the end result was satisfactory to the Capitals, there was more bad news on the injury front. Langway flew home today, was examined by Dr. Stephen Haas and learned that he will be out three weeks with a strained ligament in his right knee. Earlier, it had been believed that he would be out only three days.
Bengt Gustafsson, who scored a goal although used sparingly because of a bruised tailbone, was cross-checked into the boards by the Jets' Laurie Boschman late in the second period and hurt his upper back as well.
That was a most controversial play, since Washington was on a power play and trying to add to a 5-4 lead. When referee Dave Newell declined to penalize Boschman, Gustafsson, after he was helped to his feet, protested loudly enough to be assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct minor.
During the four-on-four segment, Boschman scored to tie the game.
"I asked him (Newell) if he was watching the same game I was and I guess he wasn't," said Gustafsson, who earlier had been knocked offside by Doug Smail without an interference call. After that one, on which Gustafsson again banged the tailbone, he lay on his stomach behind the bench until the pain eased a bit.
Boschman scored again early in the third period and Paul MacLean connected on a power play, with Peter Andersson off for tripping, to give the Jets a 7-5 lead.
Schofield rallied the Capitals with his seventh career NHL goal, beating goalie Brian Hayward with a rising shot from beyond the left-wing circle.
"I wasn't discouraged by Winnipeg's comeback, because I hadn't played that much and I was glad to get a shift," Schofield said. "Sometimes it's easier coming off the bench in that situation. I've always considered my shot to be pretty good. I don't know why I haven't scored more."
Haworth produced the tying goal with a marvelous dash down the right wing to retrieve Lou Franceschetti's dump. Haworth put a good fake on defender Dave Ellett, then scored with a shot that struck the far post and caromed behind Hayward.
"I had good speed going down and I was anxious to get to the puck, because it was going into the corner," said Haworth, who was playing center between Greg Adams and Craig Laughlin as Murray shook up his lines.
"I got a lot more ice time tonight and I think that helped me. I was surprised we blew the leads, but that was the type of game where almost every shot scored. When we were ahead 3-1, I thought it was over, because the type of team we are, when we get a lead we keep it."
To illustrate what a strange game it was, Mike Gartner had his seven-game scoring streak come to an end while Jensen earned an assist on Haworth's tying goal.
"That was my first assist since my first year here (1981-82)," Jensen said. "It's nice to come back from a two-goal deficit. We needed that."
Besides Haworth and Schofield, Bob Gould and Dave Christian also recorded their initial goals of the season.
"You don't want to play a 7-7 shootout every night, but it was good to see everybody contribute," Gould said. "Things haven't been going that great, but a game like this could mean a lot."