The Washington Capitals, checking the Boston Bruins closely in the third period last night, extended their club-record unbeaten streak to nine games with a 4-3 victory at Capital Centre.

Dennis Maruk's second goal of the game broke a 2-2 tie early in the period, then Bengt Gustafsson provided the eventual game winner before Boston managed to provide late excitement.

Keith Crowder scored off Ray Bourque's setup with 3:03 left on one of only three shots the Bruins were able to get off in the final period. But Boston, even though it pulled goalie Mike Moffat for a sixth skater with 40 seconds left, was unable to take another shot at goalie Pat Riggin.

Washington's third victory in 36 games against Boston showed that the current edition of the Capitals can play with anyone. But it also left Capitals Coach Bryan Murray wondering why his team takes so long to reach maximum efficiency.

Once again, Washington had a poor first period, permitting the10,435 to boo an inefficient power play while the Bruins took a 1-0 lead on Bourque's goal off a faceoff in the Washington end.

After that, the only Boston score came with the Capitals two men short, a result of a slashing penalty against Alan Haworth compounded by Haworth's failure to go directly to the penalty box, for which the team was assessed a bench minor.

"After the first period, we skated awfully well," Murray said. "They didn't have many chances and the few they did, Pat Riggin made some good saves."

Riggin and Moffat were outstanding in the first 10 minutes of the second period. Finally, Milan Novy pulled the Capitals even by faking out Bruins to left and right before skating down the center and beating Moffat, who was being distracted by Ken Houston.

A penalty to Boston's sore-legged Brad Park, one of three penalties in the game, had just expired and the Bruins had three defensemen on the ice -- Park, Bourque and Mike Milbury. Novy evaded all three before scoring his ninth goal.

Maruk sent Washington ahead with a sensational goal. Greg Theberge backhanded the puck along the left-wing boards and Maruk beat Boston's Mike O'Connell to it. As O'Connell cut Maruk down with his stick, Maruk managed to shove the puck forward and it slid between Moffat's legs.

"The goalie came out, then I don't think he knew what to do and he backed up," Maruk said. "I just shot it, trying to put it on net, and he had his legs open."

"I was just trying to make a safe clearing play and Dennis was quick enough to take advantage of it," said Theberge, whose assist gave him a point in six straight games.

Ten seconds before the second period ended, Boston tied the game, as Haworth's temper was transformed into Barry Pederson's 21st goal. Pederson has scored at least one goal in seven straight games.

Houston broke up a Bruins threat at one end, then was hauled down by Milbury at the other to set up Maruk's power-play goal that sent Washington ahead to stay at 3:56 of the third period.

"I was right in front of the net and I passed the puck out to Brian (Engblom) at the point," Maruk said. "When he shot it back I was six or seven feet out and I deflected it between my legs. The goalie had come out and it just went into the empty net."

It became 4-2 at 8:57 when the puck squirted free to Gustafsson inside the Boston blueline, the Swede skated outside defenseman Marty Howe, then cut in from the right-wing circle to beat Moffat in front.

"What I've done with Gus is put him against a quality guy on the other team (in this case Pederson) and tell him to stop him," Murray said. "You've got to give him something to motivate him. If you let him off the hook, let him play, some nights he goes through without a lot of sweating."

Murray had a similar rationalization for Maruk's best performance in a long time.

"Crowder hit him a few times and I think that got Dennis going," Murray said. "That's what it takes, somebody other than myself to give him a jab. I give him verbal jabs and I appreciate the help."

"It's nice to beat Boston," Maruk said. "I've been around for a lot of games against them and we haven't won many. The team is working well together now and we have a lot of confidence. Most important, we're winning."