Blair Stewart executed a perfect breakaway at the midpoint of the third period tonight to lift the Washington Capitals into a 4-3 lead. When Philadelphia's Moose Dupont was chased for slashing less than a minute later, it would seem that the Capitals were primed for the kill -- their first-ever victory over the Flyers.

The hunter quickly became the hunted, however, and by the time the buzzer sounded the Capitals were 7-4 victims, brand-new occupants of the Norris Division cellar a point behind Detroit and red-faced recipients of a royal ration of wrath from Coach Danny Belisle.

The Flyers, who lead the NHL in shorthanded goals, scored their 14th when Jim Watson slipped behind the Washington point men and converted Bobby Clarke's pass. Then Bill Barber, Watson again and Dave Hoyda connected to run Washington's winless streak to eight, longest of the season.

"We have to have all the guys playing with the same intensity," Belisle fumed. "We've never beaten this team in the history of the franchise and we had a chance. When a team's there to be had, you've got to take it. That's my job as coach and it's their job. There should be more intensity when the kill is there."

Playing with makeshift lines in the absence of Tom Rowe and Bob Sirois -- Doug Patey and Mike Marson filled in -- the Capitals three times came from behind before forging their only lead on Stewart's sixth goal.

Robert Picard connected twice, running his season total to 19, and Gord Lane netted another as Philadelphia goalie Wayne Stephenson let three long shots get by him of a 40-minute total of nine.

With the score tied at 3-all, Washington goalie Gary Inness made a great save on Bob Dailey's breakaway, deflected the puck over the net on a Blake Dunlop breakaway and received considerable help from the iron behind him, as Tom Gorence rapped two posts and the crossbar and Barber struck a post.

After 19 winless efforts (four ties, all at Capital Centre) against the Flyers, everything seemed to be going Washington's way. That winning feeling was bubbling over following Dunlop's miss, as the puck went around the boards to Dennis Hextall, who fired a perfect headman pass to Stewart. Stephenson hardly moved before Stewart ignored the usual deke and instead drilled the puck high on his glove side.

"I wanted to put it as high as I could get it in the top corner," Stewart said. "That's the hardest shot to stop. The puck came around the net and both defensemen were caught in. I broke out through center and Hexie made a great pass."

The Capitals were quickly victimized by their 12th shorthanded yield of the season as Barber, Clarke and Watson took the offensive with disastrous results for the visitors.

With the score 4-4 and Dupont still in the box, the Flyers' Behn Wilson tripped Stewart, setting up a two-man edge for Washington. Before the Flyers attained what referee Andy Van Hellemond considered possession of the puck, however, Picard had hooked Mel Bridgman to negate the advantage.

"I didn't know they had been given a penalty or I would have laid off him," Picard said. "But the whistle should have blown before my penalty anyway. One of their defensemen shot it out and he touched the puck before I hooked him."

When Dupont returned, Ken Linseman escaped the clutches of defenseman Lane to backhand an adroit pass to Barber, left unguarded in front, and his 30th goal proved to be the winner.

The Flyers easily survived a high sticking penalty to Watson, then with 1:20 left Belisle yanked Inness for an extra skater. A faceoff just outside the Flyers' blue line five seconds later prompted Belisle to call a time-out and then return Inness to the net.

It hardly mattered. First Watson and then Hoyda fired the puck past Inness as the charged-up Flyers poured it on.

At game's end, Paul Holmgren of Philadelphia whacked Hextall with his stick and players from both teams jammed around the Capitals' bench in a repeat of what had occurred at the end of the second period, when Wilson jabbed the Capitals' Dennis Maruk.