LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals returned to their home ice last night after a two-week, strike-induced layoff, but many of the fans did not come back for their 1-1 overtime tie with the New York Islanders.
The tie clinched the second-best record in the league for the Capitals. They have two more points than the Detroit Red Wings, and each team has one game left, but the Capitals have three more victories.
The crowd, 9,164, was the smallest of the season at the Capital Centre, where Washington had been averaging 16,770 a game. The previous low attendance this season was 13,927 on Dec. 17, when the Capitals beat the Quebec Nordiques, 3-1.
"I have no quarrel with the crowd," said Capitals coach Terry Murray. "I think it was a good crowd. Tonight [last night] was not a fair evaluation. It was two days after the strike, we were playing on a Monday night and it was a meaningless game."
Dino Ciccarelli, who scored Washington's goal. said: "I think you guys [the press] are overreacting to the crowd. I think the crowd was great. They had a lot of enthusiasm and cheered as much as they usually do."
Al Arbour, Islanders coach, said: "The crowds are somewhat smaller than usual because the games were rescheduled rather hastily. Good hockey will bring the fans back."
Ciccarelli, deflecting a shot from the left circle by Sylvain Cote during a power play at 6:03 of the second period, gave Washington an early lead. Ray Ferraro's goal at 16:56 of the second period tied the score, and that's the way it remained.
"I had my stick down and against the post, and Cote's shot hit my stick and went in," said Ciccarelli.
Cote's assist gave the Capitals 12 players with 40 or more points this season, breaking a team record. The 1985 team had 11 players with 40 or more.
Starting Islanders goalie Mark Fitzpatrick had to be removed with 1:47 remaining in regulation. Fitzpatrick, who made 31 saves, was sent crashing into the goal post by Kelly Miller. He was replaced by Glenn Healy, who made three saves to keep the score tied and send the contest into sudden-death overtime. Healy had four saves in overtime.
"Miller kind of slid into me and my back was twisted against the post and I wrenched it a bit," said Fitzpatrick. "I'm going to get X-rays as a precaution."
Miller was not injured in the incident and found himself looking ahead to the playoffs after the tie.
"I think we're at about 75 percent of where we want to be for the playoffs [which begin Sunday]," Miller said. "The intensity is not quite where it should be. It's good we had three games to get ready for the playoffs. We'll go to Pittsburgh Wednesday and play as hard as we can, come back here and have a couple of heavy practices to get ready."
The fans also were looking ahead, some with plans to express their bitter feelings about the strike by not attending the playoffs.
"I'm still considering boycotting the playoffs and the games next season," said John Hoffman, 34, of Burtonsville. "Hockey has higher prices [for tickets] than any other sport but football. I believe that tickets will be even higher next year because of the strike. Hey, I'm sitting in the cheap seats [$24] and I'm worried. It's getting more and more expensive to watch hockey."
Those that did attend last night's game saw some impressive hockey despite the recent layoff.
"We played well," said Capitals defenseman Rod Langway. "It was a hard-hitting game and either team could have won."
Arbour said: "This was a great skating game. I think there were only two whistles in the first period. This was hockey the way it should be played. Fitzpatrick played a great game."
NOTES: The Capitals entered the game No. 1 in the NHL in power-play percentage (22.6) and fourth in penalty killing with 83.5 percent. . .