Mike Gartner made the difference for the Capitals tonight as they beat the New Jersey Devils, 6-4, to extend their unbeaten streak to seven games.

Gartner scored twice in the third period, once into an unguarded net. "Brian (Engblom) shot the puck from center when he saw me skating down the middle," he said. "Their goalie played it well, though."

Shawn MacKenzie, the Devils' 20-year-old rookie goalie, skated far out of his net to ride Engblom off the play. "He did make the save, but it got poke-checked away," Gartner said. "Their defenseman (Tapio Levo) put the puck on my stick."

Milan Novy of the Capitals scored in the second and third periods, then Gartner's goals were the last two of a relatively high scoring game that began with a scoreless first period.

"It was a methodical first period," Coach Bryan Murray of the Capitals said. "But we gave up just two shots, although they (Devils) weren't giving us much."

Murray said the Capitals displayed "a dreadful power play; we got nothing" despite three chances.

Gartner said although the Capitals had seemed tight defensively in the first period, "We didn't plan to play that kind of defensive game. We made a lot of mistakes in the first. But I don't know that we've played a good first period yet."

Reminded of the Vancouver game in which Washington took a 3-0 lead, he smiled and said, "Yeah, but we blew that one."

Things turned out better tonight. New Jersey took a one-goal lead early in the second on Joel Quenneville's shot, but the Capitals scored three straight goals, including Bobby Carpenter's power play shot at 5:24.

The Devils, looking sharper and working harder than in their last beating by the Capitals, got two more goals before the period ended and tied the score, 4-4, in the third before the Capitals went ahead to stay.

"I really respect the Devils," Murray said. "They have a lot of guys that effort is not a problem with, and they do work hard. I get upset with our guys because we can't do as much (as we should), but when you play a team like that, that tries so hard . . ."

The Devils did try hard, but they remain at the bottom of the Patrick Division (6-18-7). After the two-shots-on-goal first period, they sent 15 at Pat Riggin in the second.

The hardest shot taken at Riggin came in the final period. Don Lever, skating in on Riggin's right, hit the puck high and hard at the goalie. Riggin prevented a goal, but fell to the ice when the puck struck him.

"Hardest I've ever been hit," he said later, rubbing a spot above his left temple.

Murray said he had not realized Riggin had been hit so hard. "Some guy stood up in front of me so I didn't see it," he said. "I had no idea. He said later he was dizzy from it. If I had known how hard he'd been hit, I might have taken him out."

Riggin appeared shaken after the blow and gave up a goal to Rick Meagher at 7:32. "I think he fought that one," Murray said. "If he'd let in another I might've taken him out."

But Riggin disagreed. "I saw it (the goal by Meagher). I was dizzy most of the rest of the game," he said. "But if I went out, it might be another week or two before I play another, and that's all (the hit) you remember. You gotta stay in."