With five seconds left tonight, Washington's Bob Carpenter skated across the red line and fired a shot at an empty Chicago net. Inexplicably, he missed.

Earlier, without even looking at the target, Carpenter put a backhander between the pipes for his second goal of the game to break a 2-2 tie. It stood up through a scoreless third period as the Capitals defeated the Black Hawks, 3-2, to extend their winning streak to five games.

Carpenter has six goals in the last four games, has amassed 37 for the season and has posted seven two-goal games. What he does not have is a hat trick.

"Before, the goalies were making great stops to keep me from a hat trick," Carpenter said, laughing. "I used to joke that if I could get out there with the net empty, I'd get the hat. Now it's no joke. I can't even get a hat trick on an empty net. But as long as we're winning, it's okay. I just want the team to finish in first place."

The Capitals maintained that status in the Patrick Division with tonight's success, which completed a sweep of the three-game season series against Chicago and kept Washington unbeaten in 11 meetings with Norris Division teams.

Carpenter scored the only goal of the first period, sliding the puck between the legs of goalie Warren Skorodenski after shots by Larry Murphy and Mike Gartner had been blocked by the Chicago defense.

Then, in a wild second period that featured as much action as most Capitals games, Washington fell behind, 2-1, before goals by Bryan Erickson and Carpenter regained the lead that was maintained through the Capitals' usual shut-'em-down third period.

Both Chicago goals came on quick spurts behind the Washington defense. Bill Gardner beat goalie Pat Riggin on a power play off Denis Savard's pass and Ken Yaremchuk connected 56 seconds later despite being tripped as he shot by Alan Haworth.

Erickson, who put five shots on goal, made good on the fifth, not long after he had been foiled at the end of a three-on-one break by Skorodenski.

Erickson's goal, his 15th, came on a power play and it left the Black Hawks and the Chicago Stadium crowd of 15,844 fuming. Erickson took Mike McEwen's pass and skated down the right wing. Suddenly, he found himself alone, cut toward the net and flipped a backhander between Skorodenski's legs.

The reason for the Black Hawks' defenseless predicament was that defenseman Doug Wilson was occupied at the blueline trying to knock Scott Stevens offside. Not only did Wilson fail, at least in the judgment of the officials, but Stevens knocked him into the other defenseman, Bob Murray, and removed him from the play as well.

"He tried to push me offside and I was just trying to hold myself on the line," Stevens said. "My foot was dragging and I don't know whether I kept it on the line or not, holding both those guys at the same time."

"I didn't know what happened," Erickson said. "It all happened behind me and I was waiting for a whistle the way the crowd yelled, but I was going to keep on going until I heard one. I never did."

Stevens' unpopularity increased when he checked Ed Olczyk after a whistle for offside and the Chicago rookie had to be helped off with a strained left knee. Behn Wilson tried to punch Stevens and was chased for roughing, the only penalty referee Bob Hall assessed on the play.

When Washington took to the power play, Stevens and Doug Wilson repeated their earlier confrontation at the blueline. This time Stevens was penalized for interference.

"That was weird," Stevens said. "I came in behind him again and stopped to stay onside and he tried to knock me off again. I wasn't even moving."

"It was a ridiculous call, just a makeup," said Coach Bryan Murray. "I don't know what Doug Wilson was trying to do, swinging across and eliminating himself from the play like that."

With each team a man short, Murphy took charge. Playing extra shifts while flu-ridden Rod Langway saw less action than usual, Murphy responded with an outstanding effort.

In this case, he cut down the middle and released a testing drive that Skorodenski blocked. Murphy pursued the puck into the right wing corner and passed it out to Gartner in the slot. Skorodenski blocked his shot as well, but the rebound came to Carpenter and his backhander hit the mostly empty net.

"Mike made a great shot and the goaltender was out," Carpenter said. "I knew I just had to put it between the posts. I didn't take time to look, I just took a chance and shot."

Langway saw considerable action during the crucial stages of the third period and Murray said, "I don't think anybody else in the league would have played tonight, as sick as Rod was. He wasn't going to play, but I asked him for a few shifts. He gave us a lot more than that."