LANDOVER -- Washington Capitals coach Terry Murray wanted to send a message to his team last night by shaking up his starting lineup.
Bob Carpenter, Alan May and Jeff Greenlaw were the first meon the ice.
Veteran right wing Pat Elynuik was benched in favor of rookie Reggie Savage.
The Caps, in need of goals and victories, were willing to tranything to jump-start this team that has played from behind most of the NHL season.
It worked, with the Capitals racing off to a 3-0 first-period lead against the Minnesota North Stars. But the Caps couldn't finish what they started, falling 5-4, when Russ Courtnall scored with 12.2 seconds left in regulation.
The Caps skated off to chants of "We want Dino," a reference tDino Ciccarelli, who will be here tomorrow as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.
Savage, called up from the Skipjacks last Sunday, became ththird player in NHL history to score his first NHL goal on a penalty shot, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead at 17:30 of the second period.
When North Star Mike McPhee's shot was deflected into the goal by Caps defender Calle Johansson to make it 4-3, Savage's goal looked like a game-saver.
But Shane Churla scored off a 2-on-1 break with 5:18 left to tie it up, setting up Courtnall's last-minute heroics.
Paul MacDermid, Al Iafrate and Dale Hunter scored to get thCaps started. But then Washington seemed content to rely on goalie Don Beaupre, who was forced to make 30 saves in the losing effort.
For a while last night, it looked like the most the Caps would have to get excited about in the second period were the flailing fists of Hunter. But then Savage started a breakaway that would give the Caps some breathing room in a game the North Stars had tightened to 3-2.
Minnesota goalie Jon Casey came out to meet Savage, but throokie juked him, circled him and was headed for an open net when North Stars defender Craig Ludwig pulled him down from behind.
Savage then scored his first NHL goal on a rarely-awardepenalty shot. He celebrated, skating madly down the ice, both arms in the air, his fists clenched. Around mid-ice he was mugged by his teammates.
The play was enough to make most of the fans in the CapitaCentre forget the Minnesota goals by Mike McPhee and Derian Hatcher, Caps defender Kevin Hatcher's younger brother.
It took less than two minutes for the Caps to begin rolling in thfirst period. Rookie Steve Konowalchuk took a shot toward the left post, where Paul MacDermid redirected it into the net. The goal, the fifth of the season for MacDermid, gave the Caps a 1-0 lead with 1:23 gone.
Al Iafrate then took a pass from Savage and wristed a shot that went through the legs of Casey.
At that point, with 15 minutes left in the period, the Caps wershooting .500, hitting on two of four shots for the 2-0 lead.
Goal No. 3 came on the power play with 9:47 gone, Hunteredirecting Hatcher's slap shot through several sliding North Stars for the 3-0 lead.
NOTES: Three Caps are closing in on milestones: Kelly Miller ithree goals from scoring his 100th Caps goal. Carpenter is one point from his 600th NHL point and Iafrate is two games away from playing his 600th NHL game. . . . Minnesota's McPhee played in his 600th NHL game last night.
The Caps, struggling both home and away, have gotten slightlbetter results when playing on the road. The Caps are 4-6-0 in away games, 2-5-1 at home.
Minnesota .0 2 3 -- 5
Washington 3 1 0 -- 4