The Washington Caps paused long enough between fights last night to continue their midseason upswing with a rough-and-rowdy 7-4 trouncing of Vancouver.

The unruly game envoked too many memories of that famous one-line: "I went to see a fight and a hockey game broke out."

From the opening 30 seconds, when Vancouver lost goalie Glen Hanlon after he was the third man in on a fight, to the closing minutes, when Washington's Paul Mulvey picked up 14 minutes in penalties for brawling, the players took turns whacking each other.

Fortunately for the 11,263 Washington fans in Capital Centre, their suddenly respectable team displayed enough of its new-found organization and passing ability to skate circles around the bewildered Canucks.

This was Washington's sixth win in its last 10 games.

The Caps had two goals from Mike Gartner and one each from Bob Sirois, Mark Lofthouse, Ryan Walter, Antero Lehtonen and Wes Jarvis.

The win, however, didn't come without one major scare. Goalie Rollie Boutin, who turned in another splendid performance, was hit on the chin by Don Lever's slapshot in the third period.

Boutin lay on the ice for about four minutes but got up and finished the game, much to the relief of Gary Green and his teammates.

Boutin was taken to a nearby hospital for precautionary X-rays after the game, although he said he felt all right.

Washington's challenge comes tonight against the Islanders in New York. Green said he would be more optimistic about that encounter if his team hadn't let down in the last 20 minutes.

"We are capable of playing good, disciplined hockey," Green said. "I would have wished we had those last 20 minutes back. I have to win hockey games by big scores."

Capt fans, though, love these infrequent one-side affairs, even if the presistent fisticuffs ruined any continuity.

In all, referee Bob Kilger called 28 penalties, totalling 120 minutes, and witnessed five fights. Three involved Vancouver's bully-boy, Harold Snepsts, whose tendency to play with his fists instead of his stick led to the loss of Hanlon.

Just after the opening faceoff, Walter and Snepsts squared off near the Canuck net. Soon, several players were dancing a fighting jig near the boards, and Hanlon took off from his net and slamed into an unsuspecting Cap. b

That led to Hanlon's exit on a game misconduct. When things settled down, Kilger assessed eight penalties, including a minor to Boutin for leaving the crease, and the referee was just getting warmed up.

Snepsts later took on Robert Picard and, finally, Walter again. He wound up serving minutes in the penalty box.

"You never intend to be intimidated in your own place," said Walter. "You have to be able to do both (fight and score). You have to take the challenge and you can't back down. You just have to put the puck in the net to win."

That's what the Caps did, once they stopped fighting and began playing as well as the gutty Boutin, who had 21 saves, 10 in the first period when his teammates were not skating crisply.

Gartner got Washington untracked with a big assist from Sirois, playing his first NHL game since De. 1.

Sirois gained possession of the puck at the Vancouver blue line and passed quickly to Gartner, who thought he scored on a quick shot.

But the puck went above the net and the startled Gartner recovered fast enough to gather it in off the boards and try his luck again. This time he beat Curt Ridley, playing his first game in two weeks.

Lehtonen followed with his goal off a rebound of a Lofthouse shot from the right faceoff circle. That preceded the game's second major fight, which began when Boutin wandered behind his net and was checked cleanly by Chris Oddleifson.

Guy Charron took exception to the contact, however, and racked Oddleifson against the boards. More pushing and shoving resulted and Picard and Snepsts threw some punches. They both got 10-minute misconduct penalties and Charron a minor for boarding, giving Vancouver a man advantage, which the Canucks used for a goal by Lars Lindgren.

But the Canucks couldn't keep up with the Caps' goal onslaught. Walter made it 3-1 by skating around defenseman Dennis Kearns and shooting while falling in front of Ridley while Kearns tugged on him from behind. Then Lofthouse finished off the first period scoring by taking a picture feed from Lehtonen and snapping in the puck.

Four minutes into the second stanza, Gartner got his second goal after skating beetween Kevin McCarthy and Snepsts to go in alone on Ridley. Boutin held off Vancouver when the Caps were down two men following another fight and Washington rewarded his efforts with Sirois' slapshot from the blut line that whizzed past Ridley's chin.

By now, the Canucks were beleagured, making it easy for Jarvis to pick off a rebound of Lehtonen shot and shove it in for a 7-1 advantage.

Three of Vancouver's goals came when the Canucks had at least a man advantage. Otherwise, Boutin was as steady and as strong as Ridley was shaky.

"I expected a physical game," Green said. "But when they lost Hanlon, it was a definite plus for us."