The doctor who stitched Mark Lofthouse's cut hand between the first and second periods of tonight's hockey game seems to have a future with the Washington Capitals.

Whether or not it was the fine stitching or just providence, Lofthouse recovered from the gashed hand and bagged his first NHL hat trick to lead the Caps to a 7-5 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.

"I told the guy to stitch the other one between periods," joked Lofthouse after the win. cI didn't really play all that well, but I was just in the right spot at the right time. I was jittery' in the first period, but after that I was fine."

Lofthouse put his hand down on the side boards during a line change and was cut for five stitches, three in one finger and two in another.

"It was an accidental thing. Guy (Charron) just put his skate down full force on my hand going over the boards. I shouldn't have had my hand there."

The win for the Caps was not just their first in Vancouver, but their first in Canada. They have yet to win in either Toronto or Montreal.

Lofthouse was quick to hand out the plaudits to linemates Ryan Walter and Paul Mulvey, all from the province of British Columbia.

"It was me who put the puck in the net, but it was the other two guys who did all the work. Ryan has been playing just super and those passes set me up perfectly."

Walter, who assisted on all three goals, was happy because he came through under pressure.

"It was a great way to come home. The guys on the line just worked. My pass on the second goal (from the corner) was just luck. I sort of felt where Mark was."

The game looked grim at the outset, Robert Picard having a shot blocked from the left point and Dennis Ververgaert scoring on the resultant breakaway. But Washington recovered and banged in two goals before the end of the first period, Bob Sirois and Tom Rowe doing the honors.

Lofthouse began his work early in the second period, giving the Cape a 3-1 lead, and his second goal provided a 4-2 margin later that period.

The game degenerated into a shootout in the third period, with Cape goalie Bernie Wolfe looking particullarly bad. Normally, when the Caps' goaltending goes, so does any chance of winning. But despite the whiffs by Wolfe, the visitors got their first win on Canadian soil in 32 tries.

With Washington up, 4-2, Lofthouse scored. But Pit Martin made it 5-3 with a deflection at 8:33 of the third period and one minute later Don Lever got in behind Peter Scamurra and Rick Green and scored on a breakaway. With the Caps on the ropes. Guy Charron gave them another insurance goal, only to have Wolfe fan on a Hilliard Graves' shot at 18:01, and Vancouver had a chance to pull their goaltender. Dennie Maruk put the puck in the exposed goal.

"I was really happy with the way our young guys played on that one line, said General Manager Max McNab. "that's the sign of good young players. Those guys knew that all eyes were going to be on them and they came through with flying colors."

The win means the Caps, despite the 10-2 thrashing in Los Angeles, finish this four-game road trip at.500, something unusual in itself.

Vancouver had a five-gae unbeaten streak snapped.