It was the cruelest blow in six years. The Washington Capitals, just a bounce away from their first-ever victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, saw the puck skip the other way.Bobby Clarke's goal with four seconds left canceled the celebration and sent the Flyers home with a 4-4 tie.

Afterward, while thousands of Flyer fans among the sellout crowd cheered lustily, Clarke was interviewed on the Capital Centre postgame show. The Capitals could hear the noise as they sat in their dressing room, some staring at the floor, some cursing softly, some merely looking grim.

"Isn't that brutal?" asked Robert Picard, a welt across his shoulder and other marks about his pale torso. "We worked our butts off and a lot of guys paid a price, and they pull it out. We can bet that team. I just hope we get our due someday."

"We know we deserved two points tonight, buy they've got more luck than we have," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "You need breaks to keep a 35-game unbeaten streak going and I guess they're still getting them. They certainly got a break tonight."

A goal by Alan Hangsleben, in his first game as a Capital, pulled Washington even with 16:45 remaining. Then, with 12:37 left, Mike Kaszycki gave the Capitals a 4-3 lead on a brilliant individual effort, circling out of the corner to score from the left-wing circle.

With 57 seconds left, Green called a timeout to rest the five men who were trying to plug the dike. The Flyers pulled goalie Phil Myre for a sixth skater, but they could get nothing going and with 36 seconds on the clock Rick MacLeish sent the puck over the boards from behind his own empty net.

Myre came back for the faceoff, but was off again when Washington's Paul MacKinnon sent a long, bouncing drive down the ice. It missed the empty net by five feet and resulted in icing, with a faceoff in Washington ice and 16 seconds remaining.

Clarke won the faceoff from Guy Charron and Reg Leach shot from the left point. The puck struck Mike Gartner's foot and he tried to clear. However, the Flyers' Bob Dailey kept it inside the blue line. The puck went skipping across ice and Picard got his stick on it, but the Flyers' Bill Barber again managed to keep it from going outside to certain defeat.

Barber flipped a backhander toward the slot as Washington captain Ryan Walter dove, just missing the puck. Brian Propp got it and shot, Clarke controlled it near his right foot and whipped it past goalie Wayne Stephenson. Fans who had held their breath exhaled in disbelief and looked up, to see "4" on the Telscreen clock.

MacKinnon missed some playing time when he was mugged by Philadelphia's Al Hill and needed stitching. Picard served two major penalties because of an all-hands brawl at the close of the second period.

As a result, the Capital defense, including Hangsleben and Pierre Bouchard, was badly overworked. But Stephenson, playing his finest game as a Capital, made up for a lot of deficiencies.

Gartner and Antero Lehtonen sent Washington into an early 2-0 lead, but the Flyers bounced back on two scores by Dennis Ververgaert and a tie breaker by Rick MacLeish.

The way things started, the 18,130 fans could not be sure they were not seeing an instant replay of Capital Centre's Friday night pro wrestling card.

The first outbreak came after 28 seconds, ignited when Washington's Paul Mulvey rode Behn Wilson into the boards following an icing call. Wilson immediately jumped on Mulvey and, after 15 minutes of swinging and shoving, both were finally shoved out the exits to the dressing rooms. Wilson received 29 minutes in penalties, Mulvey 27.

After the period ended, a verbal feud between Walter and Flyer Ron Busniuk erupted into all-hands violence. Picard came to the aid of Walter, who was surrounded by Flyers, and Holmgren punched him.

After they were pried apart, with linesman Bob Hodges holding Picard, Flyer captain Mel Bridgman began punching the weary Capital. Holmgren was ejected and much of the dirty stuff subsided, although Busniuk and Walter slugged it out early in the second period. Busniuk objected to a Walter check and wound up taking a beating for his resentment.

MacKinnon was bloodied by Hill, but both were given minor penalties and the totals amounted to only 66 for the Flyers, 50 for the Capitals, after 57-39 figures over the first 20 minutes.