The Washington Capitals shook themselves out of the doldrums last night and thumped the Philadelphia Flyers, the team everybody loves to hate, 6-3.

Despite a sizable fleet of buses from Philadelphia, the crowd at Capital Centre totaled only 12,615, indicating that a lot of folks have given up on the home team. The Capitals, however, showed no inclination to curl up and fade away.

Washington took a 3-0 lead on goals by Bobby Gould, Glen Currie and Darren Veitch, then suffered through some shaky moments while Philadelphia crept within a goal. Just when their fans feared the worst, the Capitals put it away on third-period scores by Bengt Gustafsson, Bobby Carpenter and Dennis Maruk.

Goalie Dave Parro, shaky in his last two appearances, came up big in this one, blocking 35 shots and making some important stops after a goal by Jim Watson brought the Flyers up to 3-2 early in the third period.

"We had something to prove, especially for the home crowd," Parro said. "Attendance has been going down and maybe this will bring the people back. There's been a lot of pressure and maybe we've been putting too much pressure on ourselves."

With the Capitals hanging on to their 3-2 advantage, Flyer Behn Wilson fired from the right-wing circle and Parro got a piece of the puck, which bounced behind him, just wide of the post. Gustafsson dug the puck out of a logjam along the boards, carried all the way up the left wing and fired it behind Rick St. Croix, after first pulling the goalie out of the net with an adroit move.

Mike Gartner swept around the cage and fed Carpenter for a backhander that marked the youngster's 27th goal. Then, after Darryl Sittler scored for the Flyers, Maruk converted Currie's setup with 46 seconds left.

Maruk had been an uncertain starter, because of a slightly strained ligament in his right knee, but he was out there for a regular shift and boosted his club-record totals to 55 goals and 120 points.

Missing for the first time in 277 games was captain Ryan Walter, who called 90 minutes before game time to say that he was too sick to get out of bed. The same virus left defenseman Rick Green and winger Torrie Robertson below par.

"Something is going through the club and after this game I hope it sticks with us through the year," said Coach Bryan Murray.

He hopes Veitch can play the way he did last night for the rest of the year, too. The young defenseman has had a lot of problems lately, but this effort was one to be cherished. He might have turned the game completely around with a brilliant move while the scoreboard still listed zeroes.

Philadelphia was two men short, following penalties to Brad Marsh and Sittler, but Bobby Clarke broke free and seemed headed for a demoralizing shorthanded goal. Veitch overhauled him from behind and knocked the puck away without incurring a penalty.

"I called Darren Veitch in this morning and told him I had nothing but confidence in him," Murray said. "I just wanted him to play the way he did in junior, making plays and moving the puck. He had been just standing around."

"Bryan told me to start skating with the puck more," Veitch said. "If you skate more, you can do a lot more, but if you're standing still you can do only one thing, pass it. He has confidence in me and if he tells me to carry the puck, I'm going to carry it."

The Flyers, beset by injuries, used one of their leading scorers, veteran winger Bill Barber, on defense, where he was victimized by four Washington goals. As a result, Philadelphia remained two points behind the second-place New York Rangers.

The Capitals, who visit the Rangers tonight (WTOP-1500 at 7:30), remained 10 points behind Pittsburgh, but nobody was inquiring about the Penguins' result.

"Everybody has written us off, but we haven't written ourselves off," Gartner said. "We can't watch Pittsburgh now. We just have to go out and give our best. We had something to prove to ourselves tonight. Our game in Philly last week wasn't a big effort. We had to prove to ourselves that we're not . . ."

"Pushovers," Carpenter interrupted. The point was well proven.