Toronto Maple Leafs captain Mats Sundin fired a puck past Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig, the red light went on and the fans at Air Canada Centre erupted tonight, believing their hero had won a wild overtime game. But a moment earlier the final horn had blown, the goal did not count and the Capitals managed a 5-5 tie to remain undefeated in seven games.
Washington led 3-1 a minute into the second period, Toronto went ahead 4-3 in the final seconds of the period and the Capitals tied the game twice in the third, earning the point on Richard Zednik's wrist shot with 1 minute 42 seconds left in regulation.
The Capitals (20-17-8) are undefeated in five straight road games (4-0-1) and have just one loss since Christmas (8-1-3). They played their best hockey of the season during a tough stretch in which six of eight games were away from home. They now play four straight at MCI Center, where they have earned points in 16 of the last 17 games.
"We were disappointed we let them come back and take the lead, but we have a lot of character on this team," Capitals winger Chris Simon said. "We have a lot of guys who said lets go out and win the third period and try to tie it up. We stuck to the positive things we did and didn't dwell on the negatives."
There were many positives--Simon scored twice, Sergei Gonchar netted a goal and two assists, Adam Oates had two assists (giving him 865 for his career, tied for 15th all-time) and Zednik scored his sixth goal in four games--but some defensive miscues as well. The problems started when Washington took a 3-1 lead.
Kolzig denied Wendel Clark on a breakaway but Toronto continued to assault the crease. The Capitals were living dangerously. Toronto took shot after shot and finally Sundin slipped a backhand in with about nine minutes left in the second period, making it 3-2.
The Maple Leafs tied it with 2:15 left in the period. Alyn McCauley flipped the puck through the neutral zone and Kevyn Adams was a half-step behind defenseman Ken Klee. Klee tried to tie him up, but Adams unleashed a backhander into the top corner. The Maple Leafs took their first lead on a late power play--they worked the puck well down low and Tomas Kaberle fired through traffic from the high slot, netting his second goal of the game with 36 seconds left in the second period.
"We let the cat out of the bag because we played casually," Capitals Coach Ron Wilson said. "We were looking for pretty plays and the Leafs just kept on coming. I'm just happy our guys didn't give up."
The Capitals' 3-1 lead was now a 4-3 deficit. The second period was again their nemesis--they have been outscored 55-42 in that period and outscored opponents 80-64 in the remainder. But they would not go quietly. Simon scored his second of the game, 13th of the season and ninth goal in the last 15 games less than a minute into the third period, but Toronto regained the lead about seven minutes later.
Six players fought for a puck in the crease and it squirted to McCauley, who fired it home. Washington nearly tied it on a four-minute power play, then Gonchar found Zednik, who capped the scoring. The Capitals came close to winning the game in the final seconds of regulation and both teams provided scares in overtime right down to Sundin's near-goal.
The Capitals' Euro Line--Zednik, Jan Bulis and Ulf Dahlen--opened the scoring; they have nine goals and 19 points in four games together. Dahlen's great individual effort behind the net made it 1-0 about five minutes into the game. Simon made it 2-0 about two minutes later, taking a pass form Gonchar with his back to net and firing a laser just under the crossbar. But Toronto began to find its legs. It mounted a sustained attack through the rest of the period. Kolzig scrambled on a penalty kill as one-timers pinballed all around him.
Former Capital Dmitri Khristich sent a redirection barely wide and the Capitals were hard-pressed just to dump the puck down ice. The Maple Leafs cut the lead in half on their third power play with Kaberle's one-timer from the point late. But Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph, having a rare off night, put Washington on a two-man advantage with a slashing penalty, then outdid himself, sending a puck right to Gonchar with more than a minute left in his penalty.
Gonchar fired into the empty net 34 seconds into the second period, making it 3-1. He has 10 goals and 22 points in his last 20 games; he had no goals and five assists in his first 20. It was the last time Washington would lead. It was only the beginning of a crazy night.
"This is the kind of game you love to play," Gonchar said. "I'm sure hockey fans are going to love it. It was on Hockey Night in Canada; a lot of my friends watch it. It was a great hockey game."
Capitals Notes: Sniper Peter Bondra (sprained knee) played his first game since Jan. 4. . . . Winger Jim McKenzie, claimed off waivers from Anaheim Friday, was not in uniform. . . . Los Angeles's Rob Blake (13) and Colorado's Sandis Ozolinsh (12) are the only NHL defensemen with more goals than Gonchar.