Bob Kelly's goal with 4:24 to play tonight gave the Washington Capitals their first victory in Boston Garden and considerably revived their playoff chances.

"You guys have got us in a coffin, but nobody's driven a spike in yet," Kelly said in the upbeat atmosphere of the winners' dressing room.

The 3-2 triumph over Boston, in a game in which Washington was outshot, 37-19, but rescued by Mike Palmateer's superb goaltending, lifted the Capitals into a tie for 16th place with Toronto. Each team has 68 points, but since the Leafs have more victories, the Capitals must gain one more point in their last two games that Toronto does in its last two.

The Capitals won a third straight road game for the first time in their seven years and, like every other positive note they have achieved, it did not come easily.

Goals by Dennis Maruk and Alan Hangsleben gave Washington a 2-0 lead after two periods, but the Capitals entered the final session with the knowledge that Boston, over the last 16 games, had outscored its opposition, 26-4, in the third period.

The Bruins uickly showed why, as Dwight Foster celebrated his 24th birthday by trimming the margin to 2-1 during a 10-0 Boston shot advantage over the first 10 minutes of the period.

Then Hangsleben was chased for hooking Mike O'Connell and the Boston power play produced a tie on Foster's deflection with 6:14 left.

"We knew a 2-0 lead wasn't safe and when they tied it, we could have gone into a shell, because a point would help," Kelly said. "We didn't though, because a point wasn't enough."

The players in the penalty box changed as Boston's Keith Crowder was bounced with 5:27 remaining for interfering with Paul Mackinnon. Washington's power play, so often powerless, this time came through.

Darren Veitch shot from the right point and goalie Rogie Vachon blocked it. But the puck caromed out to Maruk in the right-wing circle. He stubbed a shot and the puck trickled to Kelly, who pulled it back and fired it past Vachon for his 26th goal.

"I went to shoot at the net and a guy hit my arm," Maruk said. "Rogie came out and Hound got it past him. We needed some luck and help tonight and we got it. It was a great hockey game and a pressure win for us."

Nobody was happier than Hangsleben.

"Whoever is up there must have been thinking of me," Hangsleben said. "I figured (General Manager) Max (McNab) would come after me with a sniper rifle and I would have made a good target with him sitting right above me. The first thing they said was, 'Don't get cheap penalties,' and I get one like that."

Kelly's goal did not end the suspense for the 10,159 in the Garden and television audiences in both cities. The Bruins came back with pressure that seemed unstoppable.

Repeatedly controlling faceoffs in the Washington zone, Boston forced Palmateer to make some remarkable saves in the last 90 seconds. He stopped Ray Bourque, Foster and Steve Kasper before Boston Coach Gerry Cheevers, after first waffling, acceded to the fans' demands and lifted Vachon for a sixth skater with 44 seconds left.

Palmateer made a tough save on Bourque, then Washington's Pat Ribble got the puck up ice and fed Maruk. With the net empty, Maruk fanned and the Bruins came back. Kasper, out of the right-wing corner, fed Rick Middleton, at point-blank range in front. Middleton's shot caromed off defenseman Rick Green's stick and into Palmateer's pads as the clock showed 13 seconds.

"It was a lucky break for us, a real good break," Green said. "If there was any time we needed a break, that was the time. Boston really presses you on this small rink. They throw almost five guys at you in your end."

There was a final fillip, as Maruk hit a post shooting at the empty net a moment after the buzzer sounded.

"That was a great game to win," said Maruk, who also missed an angle shot at the net with Vachon far out of position and Washington ahead, 2-1. "I don't even want to think of the open net. We have two games left and we have to win them both. That's all I'm going to think about."

Mike Gartner assisted on Hangsleben's goal to extend to 17 games his club-record point-scoring streak. Only Hartford's Mike Rogers, with 18, has a longer string in the NHL this season.