The uplifting of the Washington Capitals' spirits, after that 7-2 humiliation by the New York Rangers, began shortly before midnight Saturday, when the team deplaned from its charter flight at Quebec Airport.

Waiting inside the lounge were about 25 friends and relatives of Gaetan Duchesne from nearby Les Saules. As Duchesne entered, the greeters applauded him at length.

While the 20-year-old winger exchanged words and hugs with the group, the other players boarded the bus. When Duchesne finally climbed aboard, looking somewhat embarrassed, his teammates applauded him in similar fashion.

The welcome helped to eliminate from the players' minds the jeers that accompanied them on their departure from Capital Centre. What followed, on Sunday night, wiped them out completely, because the Capitals won here for the first time, 7-4.

Duchesne was presented a trophy in a pregame ceremony, marking his induction into the local minor hockey hall of fame. Then he scored the first goal, his 10th of the season, and his fans in a section in the balcony of Le Colisee reacted joyously.

The group, many wearing Capitals golf caps, cheered every Washington goal and at the finish serenaded the disgruntled Quebec fans with "Nana, nana, hey, hey, goodbye."

They waited in the stands above the Capitals' dressing room after the game and whisked Duchesne away to a celebration. The rest of the Capitals were celebrating, too, as their eighth straight road game without defeat lifted them into second place in the Patrick Division, ahead of the Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders.

A year ago, in Duchesne's only other visit to Quebec, the Capitals were shut out, 3-0. At the start of this season, he found himself assigned to Hershey. At that time, few would have imagined the current scenario: Duchesne a lofty plus 15 and the Capitals challenging the NHL's best.

"I had a bad feeling to be sent down, after I had played 74 games here," said Duchesne, whose exile lasted three games. "But Mr. (David) Poile and Bryan (Murray) told me to work on my offense--I played all defense last year--and if I was needed, I'd be back.

"I rented an apartment and I was only in it one day when the trainer came and knocked on the door and told me to pack up and join the big club. I thought it was a joke."

As the Nordiques can attest, it wasn't.