PITTSBURGH -- The battered and bruised Washington Capitals lost a game, an unbeaten streak and possibly two more players to injury last night, as the Pittsburgh Penguins scored twice in the final two minutes for a 4-2 victory.
The Caps had rallied twice in the second period to gain a 2-2 tie, but with 1: 55 left in the third, Mario Lemieux was left wide-open near the far post for an easy tap-in and the game-winner. Chris Tamer scored into an empty net in the final minute.
The loss ended Washington's longest unbeaten string of the season at seven games (4-0-3).
"This is absolutely my fault," said Sergei Gonchar, 21, the Caps' young defenseman, who left Lemieux alone at the far post.
Lemieux already had scored once, as had the Penguins' Corey Foster, who made the cross-ice pass to set up Lemieux. Washington had responded with second-period goals by Michal Pivonka and Calle Johansson, who later was injured along with defenseman Joe Reekie.
Peter Bondra, who had four goals in Buffalo on Wednesday night, assisted on both Caps goals and made a timely save with 10: 25 left that prevented Lemieux from scoring.
Gonchar was not so lucky. Thinking the puck had cleared the zone, he left Lemieux unguarded.
"I moved away from him because I wanted to see what was going on over there," Gonchar said. "I turned my head to see . . . and the puck went through my legs."
The loss cost the Caps (37-30-11) sole possession of sixth place in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. They are now tied with Boston with 85 points.
"We just missed the coverage and it was a pretty bad goal for us," Caps coach Jim Schoenfeld said of the game-winner. "But Sergei has made a lot of plays this year that have won us games."
Schoenfeld was more worried about the cost his team may have suffered in manpower.
With about seven minutes gone in the third period, Reekie departed after having blocked a shot with his left foot.
With 3: 12 left, Johansson fell and injured his right wrist, his hand bending backward beneath him.
Schoenfeld said both players would undergo X-rays today.
Washington, already without key forwards Keith Jones, Steve Konowalchuk and Craig Berube, learned last night that center Pat Peake will be out seven to 10 days with a bruised knee.
On defense, Brendan Witt is out, possibly for the season, with a broken wrist, and Ken Klee is on the sidelines with a groin pull.
"We're already a little short-manned and we need guys we call up to fit in and elevate their games," said Schoenfeld. "The ones we've called up -- Jeff Nelson, Andrew Brunette and Martin Gendron -- have done that. We'll see if we have to call up any more."
Pub Date: 4/05/96