The Washington Capitals, humiliated in Philadelphia Sunday, returned the favor last night -- with interest.

A Capital Centre crowd of 17,972 whooped and hollered with unfeigned glee as the Capitals thumped the Flyers, 6-0, to regain a two-point first-place margin in the Patrick Division.

Mike Gartner scored two goals, Scott Stevens collected three points and Bob Carpenter matched his total of last season with his 28th goal in a runaway that saw Washington outshoot the Flyers, 37-18.

The happiest of the Capitals by far, however, was goaltender Pat Riggin. This was the 100th victory of Riggin's NHL career and it fulfilled a goal he set for himself when he joined the Atlanta Flames in 1979.

"This is the only puck I've ever kept, but it's going to be put on a plaque," Riggin said. "I wanted that one more than anything I've ever wanted.

"When you win 100 games in the NHL, you know you've established yourself. It's no fluke. You can win 20 or 50 by accident, but not 100.

"It's been my goal since I broke into the league. People said I was too small, I went down too much, I did this wrong and that wrong. Now I think I've proved them wrong."

The entire team had something to prove after the 7-4 rout in Philadelphia. It was obvious the Capitals were a weary club that night, playing their sixth game in nine days, but a ready-made alibi did nothing to assuage the embarrassment of the result.

Just as Riggin was not at fault in that disaster, he was not the key figure last night. By the time he faced his first shot, Washington had fired 12 at Pelle Lindbergh. In the first period, Riggin had to stop only one difficult shot, while the Capitals took a 20-6 shot margin and a 3-0 lead.

"The guys put it to them; the forechecking was great," Riggin said. "It's the sign of a good hockey club that you can bounce back after being trashed, and they beat us physically Sunday.

"I gave up seven goals the other night, but I didn't feel I played badly. I wasn't afraid to go back in there tonight. My game was bad for a couple of weeks and nobody knew it because the club was playing so well. But I think I'm playing very well right now."

For an added bit of good news, the scoreboard showed the New York Islanders losing to Pittsburgh, 6-5. The Capitals, who lead the third-place Islanders by six points, will meet them tonight at Nassau Coliseum (WDCA-TV-20, 8 p.m.).

"This was a very important win tonight," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We're going back to back against the two top clubs in our division and if you don't win at home, you're really in trouble."

Although the Capitals swarmed into the Philadelphia end from the opening faceoff, they did not beat Lindbergh until the 12th shot, at 8:07, and that came on a power play, with Brad McCrimmon off for interference. Lindbergh blocked Larry Murphy's drive from the point and Stevens, playing left wing on the power play, muscled past defender Thomas Eriksson to net the rebound.

Gary Sampson's backhander, off a long and accurate pass by Doug Jarvis, made it 2-0.

Flyers bully boy Dave Brown made his usual token appearance and tried to put Carpenter through the boards. While Brown was off for charging, Gartner came out from behind the net and scored on a rebound of a long shot by Mike McEwen, with Stevens tying up McCrimmon to prevent a clear.

When Gaetan Duchesne deflected Stevens' drive past Lindbergh at the 35-second mark of the second period, the winner was established. Carpenter and Gartner padded the margin with third-period goals, but the principal effort was geared toward assuring Riggin his 10th NHL shutout.

Riggin appreciated his teammates' work, as well as the noise generated by the crowd, but he made it plain that 6-5 would have been fine.

"Shutouts are nice, but wins pay the bills at home," Riggin said. "I've never worried about my goals against. I've always wanted more wins than losses. I figure I'm like a pitcher in baseball. If I win over 20 games, people will take notice.

"The crowd picked us up tonight, particularly late in the second period and late in the game, when there were a lot of tired guys out there. We had no workouts for two days and there was a lot of turkey in the stomachs, but we never let down."

Carpenter smiled broadly as he confirmed the obvious, that 28 goals in 36 games is far more satisfying than 28 in 80, and that Sunday's defeat was sticking in the players' craws far more than the Christmas turkey.

"It was easy to play tonight," Carpenter said. "There's so much to motivate you. When you play home and home like this, 99 percent of the time you split the games. Even if you get blown out, the hard part is for them to come in here and get a win."

Of course, the hardest thing for these two teams would have been to complete the season without being distracted by a fight. This was their fourth meeting -- the Flyers had won two with a third tied -- and they got to the last 10 seconds of the game before the first major penalties of the season series were issued.

The Flyers' Rich Sutter and Capitals' Glen Currie were assessed seven minutes each by referee Ron Hoggarth, a ruling that provoked Murray to the extent that he received a bench minor. If it seems odd that a coach about to win decisively would be that upset by relatively meaningless penalties, so be it.

"How can you explain grabbing another guy from behind, punching him a few times when he obviously doesn't want to fight, and then when he defends himself, the penalties are even?" Murray asked. "All that does is encourage all of us to get a guy just for things like that, and I don't agree with it."