There is often a thin line between hero and goat in sports. Gaetan Duchesne walked that line like a tightrope last night and wound up scoring the two goals that carried the Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils at Capital Centre.

With Washington ahead, 1-0, in the second period and New Jersey on a power play, Duchesne tripped Jan Ludvig to give the Devils a two-man advantage for 1 minute 15 seconds.

The Capitals survived and, as Duchesne left the penalty box, Glen Currie stole the puck from Ludvig and broke free with New Jersey's Tapio Levo at his heels. Currie shoved the puck to Duchesne, then screened Levo so that Duchesne was able to fake goalie Chico Resch and lift the puck over him.

"I take a bad penalty, pulling him down right in front of the referee," Duchesne said. "I'm glad it doesn't hurt us, then with two seconds left I see Kid (Currie) stop the puck and go for a breakaway. I yell, 'Hey, Kid, here,' and he gives me the puck and I make a good shot."

A deflection by Jeff Larmer, New Jersey's first goal against Al Jensen in 99 minutes 15 seconds, made it 2-1 in the last minute of the second period. Then, with 37 seconds left in the game, Duchesne shot into an empty net.

The Devils kept offensive pressure down the stretch and came close four times just before Resch was pulled for a sixth skater with 61 seconds left.

After Resch came off, Jensen kicked out a tough shot by Hector Marini. Then Duchesne, with plenty of room to skate forward, instead iced the puck. That gave the Devils a faceoff in the Washington end and New Jersey's Aaron Broten won it. However, Duchesne intercepted a pass and, after an exchange of passes with Bob Gould, completed the scoring.

It was the Capitals' second empty netter of the season, both by Duchesne in 3-1 victories where he also recorded the game winner. It became somewhat larger when Marini rattled a post two seconds before the final buzzer.

"I didn't think I had control of the puck, so with six men on the ice, I just dumped it," Duchesne said of the icing. "It was inexperience. Then (Coach) Bryan (Murray) called a timeout and he said, 'Gaet, control it if you have time and take it to the red line.'

"Then they throw the cross-ice pass and I steal it. I pass to Goldie, because I don't want another icing, but he pass it back and I put it in. I guess Bryan won't be mad at me now."

"We keep learning, hopefully, every night," Murray said.

Washington's first goal was produced by Alan Haworth, off a setup by Craig Laughlin. Haworth has three goals and four assists in four games since he was assigned to a line with Laughlin and Bobby Carpenter. Last night, for the first time, Haworth was on left wing, with Laughlin shifted to the right side.

"It's different on the left side, but my speed compensates somewhat," said Haworth, a right-hand shot. "I think I was moved because Craig has been shooting really well on the right side. I've been skating and hustling all along, but I was missing those chances before and I was getting down on myself. I had a good talk with Bryan (Monday) and suddenly the puck's going in."

Defenseman Rod Langway made two big plays in support of Jensen with the score 2-1. First he moved into the crease to bat away the puck after Rob Palmer's drive struck Jensen and spun slowly toward the net. Then he dove to block a pass from Yvon Vautour to Marini on a two-on-one. Jensen returned the favor by stopping Broten after he stole the puck from Langway in front.

Resch was brilliant as usual, stopping 35 shots. One block on Haworth was so spectacular the goal judge prematurely turned on the red light.

"You have to be lucky to beat Resch at all," Murray said. "That's why it always seems to come down to the last minute before you get the two points everybody says is easy in this division."

Devils captain Don Lever was struck in the head by a puck during pregame warmups, but X-rays taken at Prince George's General Hospital showed he was not seriously injured.