HTS picks bad time to leave Caps and goal-happy Flyers uncovered


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Happy 34th anniversary of "The Greatest Game Ever Played."

If the Baltimore Colts' 23-17 victory over the New York Giants for the NFL championship in raw, windy Yankee Stadium in sudden death was the best, as Sports Illustrated writer Tex Maule decreed back in 1958, then Saturday night's 5-5 tie between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers at the Capital Centre is a nominee for "The Greatest Game You Never Saw."

It's rare, almost unique, when Home Team Sports doesn't carry a home game of the Caps. But this was one of those times, as HTS assigned its cameras to the Bullets-Pistons game at the Baltimore Arena.

After a scoreless first period, the Flyers looked like anything but the last-place team in the Patrick Division as they scored four goals in a bit more than five minutes during the middle session. Now it was Washington's turn.

The Capitals not only drew even during the next 15 minutes of playing time, they pulled ahead, 5-4, on an absolutely gorgeous set-up by Pat Elynuik and score by Dimitri Khristich. While fans, those still present, were contemplating where to place this thrilling comeback up among the most memorable battles in franchise history, the piece de resistance arrived.

There is no more compelling moment in hockey than when a referee signals a penalty shot is in order. Just 18 seconds remained in regulation when ref Paul Devorski ordered one up for Philly after Al Iafrate of the Capitals dislodged the goal from its moorings as the Flyers threatened mightily.

Just as dramatic as the ref's call was the decision Philly coach Bill Dineen made as to which of his players would take the shot: Wunderkind rookie Eric Lindros, who had two tallies but was back for just a couple of games after being out for a month with a knee injury, got the call.

JTC He finished off the hat trick, his second in just 25 games in the NHL and, after a fruitless overtime, the game ended in a tie. Clearly, justice had been served.

* Here are a couple of stats that might surprise you:

(1) Up through Christmas, the winning percentages of the home team in the NBA and NHL were virtually the same, 190-127 for .599 to 223-154 for .591, respectively. For years, the perception has been that the home team wins at least 95 percent of the time in pro hoops.

(2) Heading into the final game tonight, Lions at 49ers, there have been no ties in the NFL this season. Of course, there were no ties last year, either.

* If the Oakland A's are so broke, as they've been insisting the last couple of years, how come they were able to spring $30 million for Ruben Sierra and $28 million for Mark McGwire within a matter of days? No wonder the players never believe the owners when they cry, "Alms for the love of Allah."

* It should be a terrific time at the Capital Centre Wednesday, when the Caps play host to a freebie, which includes a skills competition among the players (7:30 p.m.), practice (6 p.m.) and a card show (3 p.m.). They're not even charging for parking.

* Perhaps it's just coincidence, but following weeks of the starters averaging less than 32 minutes in the NBA, the nationally televised game between the Spurs and Clippers Christmas Day had seven of the 10 starters averaging more than 40 minutes.

* In their final home game at the Los Angeles Coliseum and while falling behind the Chargers, 20-0, the Raiders ran just nine plays from scrimmage for minus 4 yards as halftime approached. Then, they go across country for their "run-for-the-bus" season finale against the Redskins and play like their lives depended on it to win a thriller in the last 13 seconds. Go figure.

* It turns out there's a chink in iron man Mel Proctor after all. The HTS announcer was sufficiently under the weather Saturday evening to miss his first Bullets telecast in the nine years HTS has been doing the games (about 1,200 straight games when his work for Channel 20 is factored in).

* Consider yourself lucky you're not subjected daily to the New York papers, where the life and times of Giants coach Ray Handley take precedent over everything, but everything. And in the middle of it all is George Young, whose decision it is to either bring the coach back or set him adrift.

Young probably will make a decision today or tomorrow, and his boss, co-owner Wellington Mara, says, "I'm confident that whatever decision George makes will be in the best interests of the franchise." Great stuff, Well.

Then again, a coaching controversy is a whole lot better than those on-again, off-again NFL expansion stories we're subjected around here, right?

* Isn't it odd how every third year or so the New England Patriots seem to enter the final week of the NFL season in a tense struggle for the worst record in the league and the subsequent reward of getting to pick first in the college draft?

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