PITTSBURGH, NOV. 28 -- The Washington Capitals lost defenseman Scott Stevens in the fourth minute of tonight's game, on an ejection for spearing. Then they lost goaltender Pete Peeters, who had put on a sensational exhibition of shutout goaltending, in the 18th minute with a knee injury.

They also lost a three-goal lead, but the Capitals did not lose the game. Dale Hunter scored twice and relief goalie Clint Malarchuk stopped the last 18 shots he faced as the Capitals battled the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 5-5 tie.

This was a game that had everything. Neither starting goaltender was around for the opening faceoff of the second period, and all the scoring was completed before the third period began. Then it was a matter of counting near misses, as Malarchuk and Pittsburgh's Gilles Meloche stood on their heads to keep it even.

Perhaps the strangest sight was Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux shooting the puck over a virtually open net in the final minute of regulation. Or perhaps it was Kelly Miller for the second straight night knocking a loose puck into the net an instant after the referee's whistle blew.

The game bore out Capitals Coach Bryan Murray's contention that whenever Andy Van Hellemond referees a Washington game, strange things are likely to happen. In this case, the sellout crowd of 16,168 got to see an entire miniseries of hockey malaprops.

Certainly, the Capitals proved they can overcome adversity. They started the game without defenseman Rod Langway (back spasms) and center Bengt Gustafsson (right eye swollen shut but sight undimmed) and then Stevens was ejected at 3:49 for jabbing Rob Brown in the chest with his stick.

"The puck was going up the ice, at about the red line, and I started coming out of our end," Stevens said. "I got hit from behind and I wanted to let him know I was there, so I turned and my stick caught him. The point never hit him, it was the bend of the stick, and I think Andy was overreacting a bit. It was a tough game to watch, maybe the toughest I ever had to watch."

Washington took full advantage when the Penguins were hit by overlapping penalties to Chris Dahlquist and Lemieux. Two men up, Mike Gartner netted a rebound of a Dave Christian shot for his 15th goal. Before Lemieux returned, Hunter came out from behind and put the puck between the legs of goalie Pat Riggin.

It became 3-0 on a hustler's special by Bob Gould. Peter Sundstrom's off-target shot struck the rear boards and landed on the back of the net. The offensive team has three seconds to get it off and Gould whacked it loose, then poked it past an angry Riggin for the Capitals' third goal in 1 minute 55 seconds.

The tide turned during a hooking penalty to Miller. Peeters, who stopped all 12 shots he faced while wearing new white pads for the first time, strained a ligament in his left knee and had to be assisted off.

"A pass came across and I tried to make a two-pad stack," Peeters said. "I made the save, but I didn't stack the pads right. My legs tangled and I felt the knee pop. When the puck went back to the point, I did a half-butterfly and I knew for sure something was wrong."

Malarchuk had barely settled in the crease before Lemieux converted a Paul Coffey pass for his 21st goal. The second shot at Malarchuk went in, too, Dave Hunter rapping one off the goalie's pad as he tried to slide across.

"Coming in cold and giving up two goals on two shots is a tough way to start," Malarchuk said. "You struggle with yourself and fight your movements. It's tough until you feel the puck a few times. Confidence becomes a factor."

As the buzzer ended the period, Hunter shot a no-count puck into the Pittsburgh net and Riggin, taking exception, swung his stick at Hunter, precipitating a major brawl.

Meloche, who stopped 45 of 47 shots to beat Washington Friday, replaced Riggin to start the second period. Over the rest of the game, he yielded two goals in 28 shots.

Christian converted a Mike Ridley feed, after Lou Franceschetti dove to keep the puck in at the blue line, and Washington had a 4-2 lead. Then the Penguins scored three in a row to move ahead for the first time.

Dale Hunter completed the scoring while lying on the ice, shoving it into the empty net after he had crashed into Meloche.

After the first period, Van Hellemond just about put his whistle in storage, as he did in the playoffs' four-overtime game in April. But he blew it once too often for the Capitals' liking.

Meloche stopped a shot by Miller and Doug Bodger cleared out the rebound. It was knocked back toward Meloche and lay in the crease when Miller knocked it across. Whistle.

"He didn't have the puck; it was resting against his pad," Miller said. "But the ref was looking from behind the goalie and thought he had it. We were all over them in front."