LANDOVER -- A pair of goals in the last 3 minutes, 35 seconds of the third period enabled the Washington Capitals to tie the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-5, before 18,130 at the Capital Centre yesterday.
The tie, Washington's fourth of the season, picked up a point for the Capitals on the New Jersey Devils in the National Hockey League's Patrick Division. New Jersey lost to the New York Rangers, 5-2, and Washington is three points back of the fourth-place Devils, whom they play tonight at the Meadowlands Arena.
The Penguins, who won the season series from the Capitals, 4-2-1, were cruising with a 5-3 lead when Washington came alive.
Peter Bondra, returning to the lineup after missing three weeks with a shoulder injury, cut Pittsburgh's lead to 5-4 with a breakaway goal after a pass from Michal Pivonka.
Capitals coach Terry Murray pulled goalie Jim Hrivnak, who joined the team Saturday from the Baltimore Skipjacks of the American Hockey League, with 40 seconds remaining in favor of a sixth attacker.
Mario Lemieux, who had a goal and two assists, had the puck behind the Pittsburgh goal, but Washington's Dale Hunter took it and passed out front to Dino Ciccarelli in the slot. Ciccarelli ripped a shot under goalie Wendell Young's pads with 22 seconds remaining to tie the score and force a five-minute overtime period, which was scoreless.
"Bondra [who scored his first goal since Dec. 7] came up big with the fourth goal, and that gave us a chance," Ciccarelli said. "Hunter made Mario move the puck and then took the puck away from him. He passed it out front to me, and I tried to put it on goal.
"Any point in the standings is crucial now. The Rangers did us a favor by beating New Jersey, and tomorrow's [tonight's] game will be a big one. We're in very good shape as far as the playoffs go. We can control our own destiny. Everything is in our control."
"I feel good about any point right now," Murray said. "I'd like to look back on this game and say this was the one that sparked us to the playoffs. We showed a lot of character and determination coming back from two goals down in the final five minutes."
Murray said he went with Hrivnak instead of Mike Liut in goal because "Jim played well when he was with us before. He showed a lot of poise today. He gave up a couple of rebound
goals and a couple of power-play goals. He made the initial stop, and that's about all you can ask of a goalie."
"Generally, I thought I played well, but I also got a lot of help from my teammates," said Hrivnak, who is 4-1-1 and had 31 saves. "I felt nervous at the start, but I settled down. Pittsburgh has a very good power play. They move the puck well and have the guys who can put the puck in the net."
In addition to injured goalie Don Beaupre, who also will miss tonight's game but hopes to be ready Wednesday, the Capitals lost defenseman Rod Langway in pre-game warm-ups when he reinjured his back. Washington has recalled defenseman Kent Paynter from the Skipjacks to replace Langway.
"This was one of the most important games of the year for us," said John Druce, who scored the Capitals' first goal and assisted on another. "We came in with the attitude that we had to get something out of it -- we couldn't come out losers. In the third period, we pulled together and Dino came through again."
"We just broke down at the end of the third period," said the Penguins' Mark Recchi, who had a goal and three assists. "It's very disappointing to be up, 5-3, and not win. It's something we've been working all year to correct. We sat on our lead and the Capitals kept working. We knew it would be like playoff hockey, and the Capitals wouldn't quit."
Pittsburgh goalie Tom Barrasso suffered a pulled groin muscle on the play and was replaced by Young at the start of the second period.