HARTFORD, Conn. -- It turned out to be an entertaining night for Hartford's hometown fans, and though the game between the Whalers and the visiting Washington Capitals ended in a 1-1 overtime tie, both teams had reasons to be happy.
Before the game, the streets were jumping outside the Hartford Civic Center. Kids were dancing as they crossed the street on their way to the game. Fans were standing on street corners trying to buy tickets: "Forty bucks. I have 40 bucks. Anyone got a ticket? One ticket?"
The windows of local stores and restaurants were papered with signs welcoming back "the Whalers and their fans," who were obviously missed in a city center that had been quiet lately.
It was the first hockey game of what has become the 1995 season for the Whalers and Caps, and all 15,635 seats were filled.
Both teams emerged with a hard-fought point in the Eastern Conference. Both goaltenders, Washington's young Olie Kolzig and Hartford veteran Sean Burke, turned in performances worthy of midseason and the Caps left for Quebec feeling they had set the tone for the season with their hard work and dominating play.
The Caps also had something more to smile about. Last night they got something they didn't get much of last season: a little luck.
The Whalers took a 1-0 lead on a power play 46 seconds into the third period, on a goal by Geoff Sanderson that Caps center Dave Poulin said "could have been demoralizing," but then the Caps got a break.
They got their first power-play opportunity of the night, and after seeing many wonderful scoring chances stopped by Burke, the Caps got a deflection on a shot by defenseman Calle Johansson. The puck, said the official, went into the net off the arm of Dimitri Khristich.
"I touched it, I touched it," said Khristich, in what could have been a dance of joy as he was about to board the team bus. "At least the final stat sheet says I did. But I didn't see it or feel it at all. But I'll take it. We'll take it. It's a good beginning."
It was a good opener for Kolzig, who had played in only 10 NHL games before last night, and had gone 0-3-0 with the Caps last season before being shipped to Portland, where he anchored the Calder Cup-winning Pirates and earned the American Hockey League's MVP award.
"I was confident and anxious to get in the net and prove that MVP last year wasn't any fluke," said Kolzig. "If Sean Burke hadn't had a whale of a game -- excuse the pun -- we would have won."
The only goal Kolzig allowed came when defenseman Mark Tinordi broke the blade off his stick while trying to keep the puck away from Andy Cassels.
"The blade stuck in a crack in the ice and the puck went behind the net where [Cassels] was able to make the pass to Sanderson," explained Tinordi, who tried to block Sanderson's shot with a head-first dive. "If my stick hadn't broke, the puck wouldn't have gone behind the net and there wouldn't have been a shot.
"But I thought we played well tonight."
After giving up Sanderson's goal, the Caps didn't allow the Whalers another shot on goal.
The crowd got its money's worth in the second period, with Kolzig and Burke stopping everything coming their way. On the night, Kolzig made 21 saves and Burke 36.
Burke brought the crowd to its feet with 4:25 left in the second period, when he stopped a penalty shot by Michal Pivonka, who zigged and zagged but found only Burke stretched across the right side of the net.
Pivonka was awarded the shot after Hartford defenseman Glen Wesley tripped him in the crease on a breakaway. It was Washington's first penalty shot since Nov. 18, 1992, when former Caps forward Reggie Savage scored against the Minnesota North Stars.
Seconds later, Steve Konowalchuk got a breakaway, and he too went to Burke's right and found only stick, as he failed to get any air under the puck.
At the other end, Washington's Kolzig was tested early in the first period by back-to-back shots by Mark Janssens and Jim Sandlak and proved up to it.
It was quite a change from the first time Kolzig started a game for Washington.
That was 1989, in the third game of the season, also in Hartford. He gave up three goals in the first period and lost, 4-1.
"And then we went to Toronto and I lost, 8-4. And then I took a plane back to the minors," he said.
Last night, he gave up no goals in the first period, stopping everything, including a one-on-one against Sanderson with 1:40 left in the period.
He gave up none in the second, either, as the two sides retired with an 0-0 tie. At that point, Kolzig had 16 saves and Burke 20.
After a laser show opened the night, the crowd settled down, and cheers were sparse in the early going as the Caps and Whalers opened with a slow dance.
The 3 1/2 -month lockout had taken its toll.
It wasn't until 5:25 had elapsed that the Caps got their first shot of the season. It came off the stick of Joe Juneau, but Burke stopped it and eight other shots in the period.
"On the road, we'll take the point," said Juneau. "But the reason why everyone should feel good is that we dominated the game. We spent all our time in their zone."
NOTE: On ESPN Friday night, between periods of the Rangers-Sabres game, Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld was interviewed. He was pumping the young Pat Peake line. He managed to name Peake and Konowalchuk, but when he came to Keith Jones he called him Steve, and then he tried to recover and said, "Jonesy". Jones, watching in his hotel room, was still laughing about it yesterday. "Half the team called me within two minutes," Jones said.