TORONTO -- The Washington Capitals played from behind all night in their season opener in Maple Leaf Garden. Every time they mustered a tie, and seemed to have the momentum, the Toronto Maple Leafs would display their new-found intensity and bring the Caps up short.
But in the closing period, the Caps' maturity won out, as they escaped with a 6-5 victory.
Defenseman Kevin Hatcher scored the winning goal on a slap shot with 4:26 to play. It was the 100th goal of his career.
"We've been the kind of team that usually wins 3-2," Hatcher said. "But with the type of players we have, we can open things up a bit and still win in this kind of game."
Even though Caps coach Terry Murray said before last night's game that he wants his team to use this season to work toward sound play in the postseason, this is not the kind of game he hopes to experience night after night.
"I don't think Toronto or us want this," Murray said after the see-saw victory. "We had a lot of breakdowns and a lot of turnovers for us, especially in the second period.
"A big part of our problem is that we think we can do a lot one-on-one, and that leads to turnovers."
The Caps would move the puck into Toronto's defensive end and then lose it, setting up the Maple Leafs for a counterattack.
L Murray said the Caps were lucky to have Don Beaupre in goal.
"He simply saved us in the second period," Murray said of the 20 minutes in which the Capitals went from a 2-1 deficit to a 3-3 tie with Beaupre making 12 of his 29 saves.
There were five ties in the game. The Caps did not take their first lead until 1:14 into the third period, when Calle Johansson scored on a power play to put Washington up 4-3.
After Toronto's Nikolai Borschevsky produced his second goal of the night for a 4-4 tie, left winger Todd Krygier boosted Washington into the lead again.
But nothing lasted long here, where the sellout crowd of 15,618 went crazy with every Maple Leafs shot.
The problem for both sides was finding a primary go-to man and keeping possession of the puck.
The Caps, playing without their three leading scorers from a year ago, found themselves depending on Alan May, Michal Pivonka and Peter Bondra early and Johansson, Krygier and Hatcher late. Only Bondra emerged with more than one point, collecting a goal and two assists.
And not even Pivonka's short-handed goal early in the second period could get the Caps in the flow and keep them there.
"Toronto came at us hard in that second period," Hatcher said. "It was their effort that made us realize we were going to have to support each other in the third if we were going to get through this."
Down 2-1, the Caps began the second period with Pivonka's short-handed goal. It was set up when Caps defenseman Al Iafrate took an outlet pass from Bob Carpenter during a Toronto power play and moved methodically down ice. He moved in
to the Leafs' defensive zone and timed a perfect pass to Pivonka, who tied the game at 2 with 3:40 gone.
But that tie, the second of the night, was just the beginning of seeing double.
About four minutes later, with Caps defenseman Rod Langway trying to help Beaupre out front, Peter Zezel pushed the puck into the net for a 3-2 edge, as Toronto right wing Rob Pearson fell on Beaupre and landed on the puck in the goal.
The Caps tied it again, with 10:14 to play before intermission, when Bondra skated down the right wing, cut toward the middle and scored off a pass from Jason Woolley.
Beaupre came up big on shots by left wing Mark Osborne and center Dave McLlwain, and made a big save on a Glenn Anderson shot, during a Toronto power play created by a two-minute slashing penalty on Woolley.
Before the game was two minutes old, Anderson had sent a rebound past Beaupre for a 1-0 lead.
The Caps didn't get a shot on goal for the first 8 1/2 minutes, but once Krygier broke the drought, the Caps dominated play for most of the period, outshooting Toronto 8-0 during the next five minutes.
It was a fine centering pass from the left side by Paul MacDermid with 9:16 gone that enabled Washington to tie the score at 1 on a backhand shot by May.
That held up until, with 17 seconds left in the period, Nikolai Borschevsky scored past a screened Beaupre.
Washington 1 2 3 -- 6
Toronto .. 2 1 2 -- 5
First period--1, Toronto, Anderson 1 (Gilmour, Sacco), 1:12. 2, Washington, May 1 (MacDermid, Miller), 9:16. 3, Toronto, Borschevsky 1 (Clark, Zezel), 19:41. Penalties--Schlegel, Was (holding), 6:11; Rouse, Tor (holding stick), 13:15; Krygier, Was (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:27; Macoun, Tor (holding stick), 17:04.
Second period--4, Washington, Pivonka 1 (Iafrate, Carpenter), 3:40 (sh). 5, Toronto, Zezel 1 (Pearson, Berehowsky), 7:50. 6, Washington, Bondra 1 (Woolley, Krygier), 9:46. Penalties--Washington bench, served by Bondra (too many men), Woolley, Was (slashing), 13:35; Pearson, Tor (unsportsmanlike conduct), 20:00.
Third period--7, Washington, Johansson 1 (Hatcher, Pivonka), 1:14 (pp). 8, Toronto, Borschevsky 2 (Gilmour, Anderson), 4:27 (pp). 9, Washington, Krygier 1 (Bonrda, Schlegel), 7:32. 10, Toronto, Sacco 1 (McLlwain, Clark), 12:46. 11, Washington, Hatcher 1 (Bondra), 15:36. Penalties--Schlegel, Was (cross-checking), 4:23; Elynuik, Was (high-sticking), 10:29; Macoun, Tor (cross-checking), 15:59; Hatcher, Was (high-sticking), 19:38.
Shots on goal--Washington 12-8-12--32. Toronto 8-13-13--34. Power-play opportunities--Washington 1 of 4; Toronto 1 of 7. Goalies--Washington, Beaupre, 1-0-0 (34 shots-29 saves). Toronto, Fuhr, 0-1-0 (32-26). A--15,618. Referee--Kerry Fraser.