Short-handed for three minutes 40 seconds while holding a two-goal lead in the third period, the Washington Capitals stifled the New York Rangers' potent power play and posted a 6-3 victory tonight.

The sweep of the weekend series with the struggling Rangers enabled the Capitals to climb within one point of first-place Philadelphia in the Patrick Division.

The heroes were numerous for the Capitals, 10-1-1 in their last 12 games. Rod Langway, despite a savage check from Steve Patrick, was on the ice for the entire 3:40 of penalty-killing. Goalie Bob Mason, outstanding during that stretch, blocked 31 shots. Bob Carpenter and Dave Christian each scored two goals, with Carpenter reaching 25 in just 30 games.

Alan Haworth was knocked groggy by a James Patrick elbow in the first period and did not return, but he is expected to play Tuesday in Quebec. Although Carpenter was battered, too, in a goal-mouth collision with goalie Glen Hanlon, he missed only one shift.

"This has been some weekend," Carpenter said. "I've got bruises in the shoulder, arm, back and fingers. But they don't hurt when you win."

The Capitals' defensive crisis occurred after a goal by Bryan Erickson had boosted Washington's advantage to 5-3 early in the third period. Ranger Tomas Sandstrom shoved his glove in Scott Stevens' face and Stevens administered a pounding that resulted in his receiving a major penalty, Sandstrom a minor.

With 40 seconds left in Sandstrom's sentence, Mike Gartner was penalized for hooking Reijo Ruotsalainen. That gave the New York power play, which already had clicked twice, a four-on-three advantage for 40 seconds, a five-on-three edge for 1:20 and a five-on-four margin for 1:40. Despite many close calls, there was no score.

"They seemed to be charging us with their sticks up and we seemed to be killing the penalties," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "But Bob Mason made some great stops and what can you say about Rod Langway. He's a competitor; he won't get run out of the building by anybody in the league."

Steve Patrick tried, flattening Langway with a blindside check behind the Washington net. But Langway just rose and maintained his usual high level of play.

Langway stayed on the ice until Stevens returned and, asked about his extended duty, said, "It was all right. It was nice to kill that five on three. We won the game, that's all that counts."

Carpenter opened the scoring after just 16 seconds when his centering pass from behind the goal line struck defender Tom Laidlaw and caromed past Hanlon.

A penalty against the Capitals, for too many men on the ice, enabled Jim Wiemer to pull New York even and 30 seconds later Anders Hedberg gave the Rangers their only lead.

Before the first period ended, Christian converted a Mike McEwen pass to tie it. Then Carpenter scored off Craig Laughlin's setup to put Washington ahead to stay.

Carpenter crashed into Hanlon and the goal post after slipping behind the Rangers' defense to take a Gary Sampson pass. Somewhat off balance and with his back to Hanlon, Carpenter was shoved by Tomas Sandstrom, with results that at first appeared disastrous.

"I was breaking toward the net and I was kind of tripped up," Carpenter said. "I got a twist in the back and my wind was knocked out. I'm lucky I hit Hanlon first, because he broke my fall. If I'd hit the post first, I might have been hurt bad.

"But it wasn't as painful as the whiplash from the cross check (by Willie Huber) Saturday. That really hurt. The pain was still going all the way down my back today."

While Carpenter rested briefly, Hanlon stayed in the game and was beaten on Washington's next shot, Bengt Gustafsson hitting the far corner from the left wing circle. Bothered by a bruised shoulder, Hanlon was replaced by John Vanbiesbrouck at the start of the third period.

Pulled down by Sandstrom, Langway retaliated and was in the box when Pierre Larouche brought New York within a goal at 4-3 with 1:22 left in the second period. It was a four-on-three situation and the man closest to Larouche, Doug Jarvis, was playing without a stick.

Gustafsson set up Erickson for the goal that gave the Capitals some breathing space before the ordeal to come. Then he fed Christian for the coup de grace with a minute left.

The Rangers were missing nine injured regulars when the game began and Hanlon and Huber, with a bruised knee, were forced out before it ended. The home fans showed no sympathy, however, chanting "Let's Go Devils" and "Last Place." The fifth-place Rangers are only two points in front of the cellar-dwelling New Jersey Devils.