LANDOVER -- The Washington Capitals gave coach Terry Murray something he could have done without last night: another example of just how an NHL team can blow a two-goal lead without really trying.
For the third straight game, the Capitals watched, almost calmly, while the Quebec Nordiques rallied to force overtime and gain a 3-3 tie on a goal by Martin Rucinsky.
The Capitals, who dominated early on, had just two shots in overtime. The closest they came to winning was a Michal Pivonka shot on a two-on-one break with 17.8 seconds to go. But Quebec goalie Ron Hextall made his 38th save of the game.
Washington gets its next test here tomorrow, when Patrick Division leader Pittsburgh comes to the Capital Centre for a noon game.
During the last seven minutes of regulation, Washington played like a sparing partner, just in the ring to take a punch. That was not exactly an improvement from the first 53 minutes, in which they played a polite game that in the long run was their undoing.
"We didn't deserve better than a tie," said Capital defenseman Calle Johansson, who played for the first time since bruising his ribs last Saturday. "Quebec played like they didn't want to be part of it for more
than two periods. They were very nice to us, and we should have buried them."
With the tie, the Capitals tied their all-time unbeaten streak at the Capital Centre, set in 1982, at 12.
Murray tried to emphasize the positive, pointing out the Capitals had a number of terrific opportunities to score in the first two periods.
"Hextall was the reason why we didn't have four, five or six goals," said Murray, who did not want to dwell on the fact that the Caps had a 3-0 lead and were still up 3-1 going into the third period.
Even when Quebec's Steve Duchesne scored on a 5-on-3 power play with 13:36, to close within 3-2, the Caps kept a polite distance.
Of course there were checks and the crowd of 17,818 did its part chanting "Hex-tall, Hex-tall", but there was never a real sense of urgency until it was too late.
"How do you say it without being too critical?" Johansson said. "We just didn't play as a team. When they scored to make it 3-2, we stopped playing as a team. We didn't pass the puck to each other, our forwards never got a good break out from our [defense]. None of our defensemen gave our forwards a chance for a good attack in the final period."
While the Capitals seemed to grow duller defensively, Quebec took chance after chance in the final period. But the warning shots fired by Andrei Kovalenko, who barely missed a wrap-around with 12:31 to go, Claude Lapointe at 8:44 and Joe Sakic with 7:07 left weren't enough to awaken the Caps.
Finally, at 6:59, Rucinsky picked up a loose puck in front of the Capitals net and took a wild swing that found the goal for the tying goal.
"I think when you come back from 3-0, you're somewhat happy," Hextall said. "We could have won the hockey game, but they could have won the game, too, so it's a double-edged sword, I guess. But it's our second game in two nights, we're down 3-0 and we tie the game. You've got to be happy."
The Capitals started as strong offensively as they have for the past three games. This time it was Pivonka and Sylvain Cote scoring in the first period.
Defenseman Al Iafrate scored on a power play in the second for the 3-0 advantage.