Three goals behind and serenaded by boos after two periods, the Washington Capitals put on another of those miracle finishes last night that kept the folks coming back to Capital Centre.

As the 12,482 fans rode the roller coaster from despair to ecstasy, Paul Mulvey, Dennis Maruk and Mike Gartner scored within 5 minutes 20 seconds to pull out a 3-3 tie with the Buffalo Sabres.

Earlier, Buffalo's Danny Gare had scored twice just 10 seconds apart, the fastest two goals by one player in the Sabres' history, to give the visitors a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead.

It was a most exciting game, with both teams skating at high speed and throwing some solid checks. At one point in the second period, the teams went four minutes without a whistle. Later, on a Washington power play, the Capitals kept the puck in the Buffalo end for the full two-minute penalty, without whistle or score.

Between the second and third periods, the Capitals sat in the dressing room and decided that possibly, although they had been playing good hockey, they might be able to find a little extra.

"We thought we were playing well, we just didn't have enough bite out there," Gartner said. "We decided to go all out, to press them, send three men in and do our best. Things seemed to go our way for a change. At home you shouldn't be satisfied with a tie, but we've got to be satisfied after that one."

Goalie Bob Sauve, who had turned aside 21 Washington shots in the first two periods, went down to block a bouncing effort from the point by Rick Green. Mulvey got the rebound and lifted it over Sauve at 3:47 for his first goal of the season.

Relief goalie Mike Palmateer made a sensational save on Derek Smith, set up in front by Gare, and when play shifted to the other end, the Capitals made it 3-2. Bob Kelly faked a shot, luring a Buffalo defender to the ice, and instead passed to Murak, who scored his nineth goal from just outside the crease at 7:29.

Referee Wally Harris helped out on the tying score. Mulvey grabbed Richie Dunn behind the Buffalo net, but Harris ignored the obvious holding penalty. As the puck squirted away from Dunn, Ryan Walter pounced on it and fed Gartner in front for his ninth goal at 9:07.

When Buffalo's Tony Mckegney, who scored the game's first goal, was chased for tripping at 9:57, it seemed the Capital's momentum would carry them to the tie breaker. Although Gartner split the defense with a brilliant move, he was foiled by Sauve and there was no further scoring.

Wayne Stephenson, the Capitals' starting goalie, was struck on the right elbow by Buffalo's first shot, a high drive by Lindy Ruff. He stayed in the game for the rest of the period, then gave way to Palmateer.

"I thought maybe I could make it through the period and then ice it," Stephenson said. "But when I took the penalty for holding the puck, I figured it was time to get out of there."

Stephenson had wandered into the corner at his right in pursuit of the puck, then was hemmed in by Sabres and forced to hold on. The resulting delay-of-game penalty set up McKegney's power-play score.

Gare, a 56-goal man a year ago, collected his ninth and 10th of this campaign late in the second period. He spun and blasted a 40-footer past Palmateer at 15:15, then hit again on a breakaway 10 seconds later, taking Mike Ramsey's pass and deking Palmateer before backhanding the puck behind him.

The old Buffalo record for fastest goals by one player was held by Richard Martin, who connected 14 seconds apart against Washington five years ago.

The two teams meet again tonight in Buffalo (7:00-WTOP-1500) and they will carry their respective streaks along with them. The Capitals are winless in eight games, the Sabres unbeaten in eight.

On that subject, Washington Coach Gary Green expressed some annoyance: "We like to look at things this way: we may be winless in eight, but we have five ties in those eight. It's like if you have half a glass of water. It's either half empty or half full.