EDMONTON, ALBERTA, JAN. 11 -- Mark Messier's controversial goal left the Washington Capitals fuming tonight, as the Edmonton Oilers gained a 3-2 decision in a bitterly contested game.

He kicked the puck toward the net, then tried to poke it with his stick. The Capitals claimed it was propelled over the line by the skate, replays were inconclusive and referee Ron Hoggarth eventually allowed it after conferring with his linesmen.

That gave Edmonton, once again playing without Wayne Gretzky, a 3-1 lead with 15:43 left. Washington's comeback, highlighted by Peter Sundstrom's fifth goal, came up short.

Since the Capitals were deprived of two potential goals by what they considered quick whistles, they were belligerent afterward. Coach Bryan Murray and goaltender Clint Malarchuk waited to exchange words with Hoggarth at the finish.

"That was a tough hockey game to lose," Murray said. "There were three goals in the game that were controversial and every one went against us.

"On Messier's goal, he was standing in the crease long before the puck arrived, then he drags his leg and kicks it over. The ref can't see it and the linesmen just cop out and say they can't, either.

"It's disappointing. We played our butts off and had all kinds of chances. To work like that, then have the game decided like that, who wouldn't be mad?"

Teammate Bengt Gustafsson kept Malarchuk from charging Hoggarth after Messier's goal.

"It was a good six inches over, he kicked it so hard with his skate," Malarchuk said. "But he was smart enough to give it a push with his stick and they fell for it. I can't blame Ronnie Hoggarth. He's one of the best referees in the league and sometimes the referees can't see it. But when the guy's in the crease and then kicks it in, one of them ought to be able to see it. We got bad luck, all the bad breaks against us."

Messier said: "Glenn Anderson threw it across the net and I blocked it with my foot. It was going into the net, but just before it did, I got my stick on it. I didn't even think about it not being allowed, because I had hit it in with my stick."

Asked how close to the goal line the puck was when he got his stick on it, he replied: "I can't say."

There was no camera behind the goal and Messier's body blocked enough of the play for the replay to be inconclusive.

The Oilers took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by pinching defensemen Charlie Huddy and Kevin Lowe. Huddy's score came on a power play, as did Messier's later.

An unusual delay penalty to Edmonton at the end of the first period, because a player stepped on the ice instead of heading for the dressing room, led to Washington's first goal.

There was a lot of action in the first minute of the second period, with Edmonton shorthanded. First Gustafsson netted Mike Gartner's rebound, but Hoggarth thought goalie Grant Fuhr had smothered Gartner's shot and blew his whistle an instant before Gustafsson shot.

Malarchuk foiled Anderson on a shorthanded breakaway before Gartner netted his 25th goal from the left hashmarks to make it 2-1.

Washington killed off a five-minute penalty to Gustafsson, whose stick ripped open Steve Smith's mouth. Then Edmonton skated off a pair of minor penalties, with Fuhr making big stops on Kevin Hatcher and Greg Adams.

Washington's Kelly Miller was off for hooking when Messier's controversial score made it 3-1.

Not long after, the Capitals maintained possession for a long time while Hoggarth was signaling a delayed penalty against Craig Muni for hooking Bob Gould. Gould missed the net twice before Dale Hunter's shot appeared to hit Fuhr's pad and carom back to Gould, who put it in the net. Once again, Hoggarth's whistle intruded.

"It rebounded right out from the goalie and I sent it in," Gould said. "Hitting the goalie doesn't give them possession. But he {Hoggarth} said that Kevin Lowe directed it with his glove, giving them possession."

Despite the bad luck, the Capitals battled back and finally succeeded.

Steve Smith broke his stick on a shot that failed to reach the Washington net. Gustafsson sent the puck up ice and, while Smith loafed toward the bench, Adams raced past him and went in on a breakaway. Fuhr made a spectacular save, but Sundstrom netted the rebound.

With 9:16 left, the Capitals were very much in contention, but they did not score again. Although outshooting Edmonton by 10-3 in the third period, Washington did not mount much of a power play when Messier was penalized for high sticking with 2:53 left.

The victory was only the second for the Oilers in their last nine meetings with the Capitals.

Washington 0 1 1 2 Edmonton 2 0 1 3

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Edmonton, Huddy 7 (Messier, Tikkanen), 5:57 (pp). 2, Edmonton, Lowe 3 (Krushelnyski, Graves), 16:15. PENALTIES -- Hunter, Was (holding), 5:44; Franceschetti, Was (roughing), 14:53; Smith, Edm (roughing), 14:53; Gould, Was (roughing), 18:05; Messier, Edm, double minor (roughing 2), 18:05; Edmonton bench, served by Graves (delay of game), 20:00.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 3, Washington, Gartner 25 (Murphy, Stevens), :58 (pp). PENALTIES -- Gustafsson, Was, major (high-sticking), 3:19; Muni, Edm (hooking), 12:18; Mantha, Edm (hooking), 14:26; Hunter, Was (roughing), 19:49; McSorley, Edm (roughing), 19:49.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 4, Edmonton, Messier 26 (Anderson, Beukeboom), 4:17 (pp). 5, Washington, Sundstrom 5 (Adams, Gustafsson), 10:44. PENALTIES -- Miller, Was (hooking), 3:40; Muni, Edm (hooking) 7:08; Adams, Was (hooking), 8:32; Messier, Edm (high-sticking), 17:07.

Shots on goal: Washington 9 8 10 27 Edmonton 12 8 3 23

Power-play Opportunities -- Washington 1 of 6; Edmonton 2 of 4.

Goalies -- Washington, Malarchuk (23 shots-20 saves). Edmonton, Fuhr (27-25).

A -- 16,315.

Referee -- Ron Hoggarth. Linesmen -- Swede Knox, Randy Mitton.