Some members of Wednesday night's Forum crowd of 8,931 persisted in yelling epithets at veteran Los Angeles defenseman Jerry Korab, a.k.a. King Kong. Washington winger Mike Gartner wishes they had left Korab alone.

Gartner was checked to the ice so hard by Korab late in the first period that for an untoward length of time thereafter Gartner was unaware of exactly where he was.

"The doctor looked at him, and he told me Mike couldn't remember anything," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "The doctor said if he started to get sick, he'd have to stay out of there. I was really concerned, because if there's any position where we're short, it's right wing."

Gartner did not miss a shift in the last two periods. He scored a spectacular goal, his 25th of the season, and forechecked the Kings with such success that he was named the No. 1 star in the Capitals' 5-2 victory.

"I really don't know what happened," Gartner said. "I didn't really come out of it by the time the game ended. That kind of thing has happened before, and it usually comes back to me in a day or two.

"I don't think it was a real crushing check by Korab. But my head hit the ice, and I was kind of wobbling as I went to the bench. I felt okay at the start of the second period and I played, but I don't remember much.

"After it happened, I was shaking my head and Bobby (Carpenter) asked if I was okay. I told him I didn't know, I couldn't feel anything."

One thing Gartner was sure of afterward: "It was a big win."

The Capitals closed within nine points of playoff target Pittsburgh, the first time since Oct. 31 they had trailed the Penguins by fewer than 10 points.

This was only the fourth victory in 22 visits to the Forum for the Capitals, who were able to win with a somewhat subpar effort because the Kings are playing horribly.

"I couldn't believe how bad their power play was," Murray commented on the zero-for-five extra-man effort of the Kings, once one of the great power-play combinations in the NHL.

The Capitals led all the way, after Lee Norwood deflected a Darren Veitch shot past the Kings' starting goalie, Mario Lessard, at 7:50 of the first period.

Bengt Gustafsson made it 2-0 on a similar score, as the Capitals controlled the puck on each of the first two goals while the Kings were being fingered for a delayed penalty, goalie Al Jensen being replaced by a sixth skater.

After Dave Taylor scored the Kings' first goal, Chris Valentine exposed the NHL's worst penalty-killing unit with a power-play goal. Then Gartner came around from behind and beat Lessard, who was immediately replaced by Doug Keans.

Larry Murphy pulled the Kings within 4-2 before Dennis Maruk completed the scoring on an empty net with only one second left. It was Maruk's 47th goal and 99th point, an earlier assist having broken his club record of 97.

The Capitals remained here for a practice session today and are scheduled to fly to Minneapolis Friday. They meet the North Stars in Bloomington Saturday night and the Jets in Winnipeg Sunday afternoon.

"Now we have a chance for one of the next two, at least," Murray said. "We need to cut into Pittsburgh's lead a little more before we go home."