Playing the league's top team with a lineup that suggested they'd thrown in the towel, the Washington Capitals held on to their faint playoff hopes with an unusual rally.
With many veterans out of the lineup, the Capitals somehow beat the Dallas Stars 2-1 Wednesday night on Brian Bellows' power-play goal 35 seconds into overtime to snap a four-game winless streak.
Washington's backup goaltender started. Before the opening faceoff, the veterans joked about who would be traded to which playoff team. Peter Bondra, Yogi Svejkovsky, Joe Juneau and Sergei Gonchar were all rested with minor injuries they probably would ignore if it were a big game.
"You may say the season's over," coach Ron Wilson said. "And I don't think it is. So, we had a meat-and-potatoes lineup in there, and we were successful. I'll use the same lineup in Montreal (Saturday) because those guys deserve to play again."
The Capitals may still be alive, but only mathematically. They are eight points behind eighth-place Boston with 14 games to play, and there are three other teams Florida, the New York Rangers and Montreal between them and the Bruins.
That was a reason to give goaltender Rick Tabaracci, a likely free agent at the end of the season, his first start since Jan. 30. Tabaracci has heard the rumors and knows he was probably auditioning for other teams.
"I've been traded six times," said Tabaracci, who made 26 saves. "I know what's going on. Everyone's being evaluated. I'm sure George (McPhee, the Capitals' general manager) is getting a lot of calls regarding everyone's availability."
Because Dallas also scratched several top-line players, the game had the feel of a meaningless exhibition in October until the dramatic finish. The Stars, finishing a 0-1-2 road trip and comfortably on their ay to their second consecutive Presidents' Trophy, were without injured players Brett Hull, Darryl Sydor, Richard Matvichuk, Guy Carbonneau, Joe Nieuwendyk and Shawn Chambers all listed as day-to-day.
"We hit some goal posts in the second period and weren't able to extend the lead," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "In the third period, we ran out of gas."
The game-winner came when Adam Oates slid the puck across the crease to Bellows, who had plenty of open net in front of him to beat Ed Belfour for his 12th goal of the season.
The Capitals, who had been 0-27-2 when behind going into the third period, had trailed Dallas 1-0 before Andrei Nikolishin tied it with a slap shot from the right circle with 12:08 remaining in regulation.
Tony Hrkac took advantage of a funny bounce off the boards to get a fluke goal 22 seconds into the second period for the Stars, whose unbeaten streak ended at five games.
Hrkac scored after Tabaracci went behind the net to stop Mike Keane's dump into the offensive zone, only to see the puck take a strange carom off the boards to the other side of the net. Tabaracci tried to scramble back to the crease in time, but Hrkac collected the puck and slid in his second goal in two nights.
The Capitals hadn't beaten Dallas since 1996. They lost 4-0 at Reunion Arena in November.
©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed