The Washington Capitals' exploits are beginning to sound like a broken record. That was the theme last night -- broken records -- when the Capitals whipped the Detroit Red Wings, 5-2, at Capital Centre.

It was Washington's fifth straight victory, the first time the team has accomplished that feat, and Mike Gartner set another club mark by scoring a goal for the sixth game in a row.

Bob Sirois scored twice, for the third time in the last five games, and Bengt Gustafsson scored his fourth goal in four games. The biggest goal, however, on a night when the Capitals were playing below their recent high-caliber form, came off the stick of Pierre Bouchard.

Despite leading 3-2, the Capitals were reeling under Detroit pressure midway through the final period -- until Bouchard unloaded from the left point and his bullet was mishandled by goalie Rogie Vachon.

"Yes, it was a hard shot. It even surprised me," said Bouchard, whose father, all-star defenseman Butch Bouchard, was watching his first game in Capital Centre.

It was Bouchard's fourth goal, matching his career season high, and his first this season in the United States. In fact, Bouchard could not recall ever scoring any of his 20 lifetime goals outside Canada.

"Maybe it's been 10 or 12 years ago, in the American League," Bouchard said, laughing. "I can't remember any."

With the pressure eased, Washington regained control and Sirois wrapped up the scoring on a clever give-and-go with Dennis Maruk. The goal was not scored exactly as planned, though, because Sirois was sending a return pass in Maruk's direction when the puck struck a Detroit skate and skidded into the net.

"PeeWee (Maruk) has helped me a lot," Sirois said. "He knows where I am and I know where he is. He's a great goal scorer and he's having trouble -- it's just a matter of getting that first one. I tried to help him, the way he's helped me."

"We played very well for a long stretch of games and you can't stay at a peak forever," said Coach Gary Green. "We let down from time to time tonight and Steph (goalie Wayne Stephenson) held us in there. We had a stagnant period before Bouchard scored, but when he did, it gave the guys extra bite."

Gartner, whose 32nd goal opened the scoring on a first-period power play, noted the team's difficulty in psyching up for teams like Detroit, which it beat for the first time in four meetings.

"We have trouble getting up for Colorado and Detroit and teams like that," Gartner said. "We tried to prepare for this as if we were playing a team like Montreal or Boston. This game was just as important, if not more important, because we're trying to catch Detroit."

The victory lifted the Capitals into a tie with Vancouver for 16th place, the final qualifying spot for the playoffs. Detroit, in 15th, is only one point ahead.

The struggle to move ahead becomes more difficult tonight when the Capitals visit Boston for a 7 p.m. rematch with the team they beat for the first time here on Wednesday. This time, the Bruins will be without winger Terry O'Reilly, suspended for leaving the bench yesterday, and that ought to give Paul Mulvey's sore left hand a rest.

Mulvey bruised his hand on O'Reilly's face in two fights Wednesday, then added to his discomfort by whacking the Red Wing's pesky 5-foot-6 Dennis Polonich in the first period last night.

"I threw a left again, my sore hand," said the 6-4 Mulvey. "He gave me a cheap shot, then when I nailed him he brought his stick up, so I decided it was time to fight. But he's got an awfully hard head. He told me I should play basketball."

The Mulvey-Polonich fight occurred before the game was 90 seconds old, and followed a 10-minute delay to strengthen a glass support and a fight in which Detroit's Mike Foligno pinned Rick Green and rfeused to get off.

The crowd, many of whom waved towels inscribed with "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," boosted the Capitals' attendance to 346,220, more than 20,000 ahead of last year. The team's 24th victory equaled a high set twice before -- and there are 11 games left.