Hunter's last-minute goal leads Capitals past North Stars, 4-2


BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Dale Hunter scored with 41 seconds remaining last night to break a 2-2 tie and lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota North Stars.

With goaltenders Jon Casey of the North Stars and Don Beaupre of the Caps repelling numerous chances in the closing minutes, the 13,083 fans at Met Center were settling back in anticipation of overtime when Hunter rushed deep on the right side and passed to Kevin Hatcher, who veered to the slot. Hatcher's shot hit Minnesota defenseman Mark Tinordi, and as the puck caromed to the right, it reached the crease. Hunter put it away.

"The first shot hit Tinordi's stick," said Casey. "It went right to the side, right to where their guy was."

The Stars called a timeout and pulled Casey, but Kelly Miller hit the open net with a 60-foot shot from the right side, giving the Caps their second straight victory -- both on the road.

The North Stars, who came into the game with a 2-0-1 streak that equals their longest unbeaten stretch of a sputtering season, got things together about the time Tinordi returned from a lengthy absence because of a damaged nerve in his leg. Tinordi, a rugged force on defense, showed his skills at the other end of the rink as well by scoring the first goal last night.

Tinordi had rushed deep into the Caps zone on an early North Stars power play, and when Dave Gagner had trouble controlling a pass from Brian Bellows, Gagner managed to nudge the puck to the goal mouth. Goaltender Don Beaupre tried to cover the puck, but Tinordi pulled it to his right and tucked a backhand in on the right side at 3:10 of the first period.

Hatcher tied the score for the Caps with a goal at 5:12, but that was the only time the Caps could dent Jon Casey's goaltending in the first period, despite repeated point-blank opportunities. Hatcher, whose younger brother, Derian, is a rookie defenseman for the North Stars, scored after Dimitri Khristich's pass from a left-corner faceoff.

A Capitals goal was waved off by referee Kerry Fraser 25 seconds later when Calle Johansson skated into the crease moments before Khristich scored. As the new rule requires, Fraser disallowed the goal and penalized Johansson for interference. The North Stars used that power play to go up 2-1 when Todd Elik scored at the crease with his own rebound.

The game took an ugly turn in the second period, shortly after Dino Ciccarelli tied the score 2-2 at 6:46. That goal, too, came on a power play, when Al Iafrate fired a slap shot from center-point that Casey blocked, but Cicarelli stabbed in the rebound when the puck landed in the left edge of the crease.

A short time after that goal, Ciccarelli met with some jeers from the crowd when he appeared to pull down Derian Hatcher near the net. Moments later, Ciccarelli was open for a rebound try from the right edge, and as Casey blocked his shot, Hatcher skated up from the side and carelessly flailed at Ciccarelli with his stick. Replays showed the stick blade struck Ciccarelli near the left eye, and as he half-spun away, Hatcher followed through with a cross-check from behind that sent Ciccarelli crashing into the end boards.

After play was whistled down, Ciccarelli was helped off the ice, leaving blood dripping from the wound. While even the most loyal North Stars fans had to be certain that Hatcher would get a major penalty, Fraser issued no penalty on the play, not even a minor.

"I hooked him earlier, but what happened was he got burned," said Ciccarelli, whose eye was swollen shut. "I got a couple of good shots there, then he came up and hit me with his stick. It's cut to the bone. I guess they put five stitches underneath the skin and five more on the outside."

The Caps said they anticipate Hatcher could be suspended if the NHL reviews the videotape, but the fact that Fraser called nothing left them in an understandably bad mood. When Fraser let several more incidents go unpenalized, the game flared almost out of control.

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