Hunter's return not enough as Caps tie, 4-4


LANDOVER -- Washington's veteran center Dale Hunter surely knows how to make an entrance -- but his presence, while inspirational, wasn't enough to pull out a victory.

The Capitals played to their first overtime tie of the season, 4-4against the Pittsburgh Penguins thanks in large part to Hunter's efforts and a strong third-period performance by goalie Don Beaupre, who came on in relief for Rick Tabaracci in the second period.

But, aside from Hunter's early play to set up the Caps' first goaby Kevin Hatcher 1:12 into the game, coach Terry Murray was not happy with his team's performance.

"We dropped off as a team after that," Murray said. "We got a little sloppy. We weren't moving well and Pittsburgh was doing whatever they wanted to do in our zone."

He took out Tabaracci, the goalie with the best goals-against average in the NHL, after he allowed three goals on eight shots in the first period.

As for Hunter, Murray said the sellout crowd of 18,130 saw for itself what Hunter can do.

"He made a big play on the first shift, a big play on the tying, power-play goal," Murray said. "He's terrific at finding the open man."

Returning to the Capitals for the first time this season after

having served a 21-game suspension for an illegal hit during last spring's playoffs, the 33-year-old Hunter set up Hatcher's goal in the first period for a 1-0 lead and made a perfectly timed pass to Dimitri Khristich on a goal that tied the game at 3 with 10:33 gone in the second period.

Rick Tocchet gave the Penguins a 4-3 lead with 4:47 left in the second period but Hunter again brought the Caps back. He gave Pittsburgh goalie Ken Wregget a timely -- and relatively gentle -- forearm that brushed him away from the net and gave Mike Ridley time to get the puck from Calle Johansson and Hatcher for a power-play goal that re-tied the game 1:12 into the final period.

Hunter and Tocchet were both forced out of the game with 8:43 to go, when they were each given two-minute penalties for roughing and 10-minute misconducts, meaning neither could return to action until there was 1:03 left in overtime.

Hunter did not return.

"It felt good to be back," Hunter said. "And I'm glad I didn't disappoint anybody. You don't know how you're going to play. It's a lot of emotion and you just play and react. I was just passing the puck before I thought about it and it worked."

As for the extended penalty, "I think Rick and I were surprised the ref thought our pushing each other around was worth 12 minutes."

Just 19 seconds after stepping on the ice, Hunter had his first assist of the season with just 1:12 gone in the period.

Hunter made the pass that got Pat Peake streaking to thPittsburgh net. Peake shot, forcing Wregget to twist around, his back to the coming attack, and scrape the puck away from the front of the net.

At that point, Hatcher had closed in and flipped the puck past Wregget for Washington's first goal.

Unfortunately for Washington, it was the only goal of the period. That, and the fact that Tabaracci gave up three Pittsburgh goals on eight shots, including one on the power play with just 36.5 seconds left, prompted Murray to pull Tabaracci for Beaupre at the start of the second period.

When play resumed the Capitals seemed energized.

With 2:51 gone in the period, Al Iafrate unleashed a slap shot from near the blue line that Peter Bondra was able to redirect into the net for a power-play goal, that narrowed the margin to 3-2.

ashington nearly tied it on another power-play attack at 12:15, but Hunter, who was positioned in front of the net, could not get his stick on the loose puck in time to beat Wregget.

A melee ensued between Hunter and Kjell Samuelsson that waeventually sorted out with two-minute high-sticking penalties on each.

But of course, this was Hunter's night, and if he couldn't score, well, he could assist.

And with 9:27 left in the period, he again dug the puck out from along the boards and passed to Khristich near the right circle for a 3-3 tie.

NOTES: Vice President Al Gore was in attendance. . . . When Mike Ridley scored at the end of Wednesday's game against St. Louis, he secured second place on the Capitals all-time goal-scoring list with his 197th. Only Mike Gartner's 397 is better . . . C Steve Konowalchuk and D Enrico Ciccone were scratched from last night's game.

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