The Washington Capitals buy their cowboy boots in Calgary. In Vancouver, they collect hats.

Mike Gartner scored three goals tonight, running his season total to 38, as the Capitals beat the Canucks, 6-2, and kept their three-point Patrick Division lead over Philadelphia, which beat Toronto tonight, 4-1.

The Capitals' only other hat trick this season, by Alan Haworth, was on the team's previous visit here, Oct. 28.

"The Philly score over Toronto wasn't mentioned on the bench, but it didn't have to be," Gartner said. "We could feel them breathing down our backs, down to one point. This was a game we needed to win, and when we got going, we all played very, very well."

Greg Adams scored two goals tonight, giving him four in four games, and Haworth posted his 18th. The Capitals broke a 2-2 tie with three goals in less than two minutes late in the second period.

The defeat ended a six-game winning streak on home ice by the Canucks, who scored both of their goals on power plays.

After yielding a stunning goal in the first 37 seconds, the Capitals bounced back to take a 2-1 first-period lead on goals by Adams and Gartner.

The Canucks' score, on the first shot of the game, came with Gaetan Duchesne off for hooking Patrik Sundstrom at the eight second mark after the Swede stole the puck from Scott Stevens in the Washington end.

The goal was a weird one, with Sundstrom in the right-wing corner trying to pass the puck behind the net. It hit the rear boards, caromed off the side of the cage and wound up on the stick of Tony Tanti, who beat a startled Pat Riggin for his 28th goal.

When Tanti was cited for holding Bob Carpenter at 1:07, the Capitals also put the puck in the net. However, it did not count.

Vancouver goalie Richard Brodeur stopped a shot by Gartner and a rebound by Stevens, who put a second rebound in the net. But the red light never went on and referee Bob Hall, after talking with the goal judge, ruled no goal. Hall and the goal judge insisted they had not seen the puck enter the net, although the TV replay clearly showed it did.

The Capitals tied it at 14:10, as quick passes by Craig Laughlin and Doug Jarvis freed Adams on the left wing. Adams, a British Columbia native, gave Brodeur a head fake. When the goalie moved off balance to his right, Adams flipped a backhander into the empty bet. It was his third goal in the last four games.

Gartner broke the tie with his 36th goal at 19:01. Duchesne dug the puck out of the left-wing corner and fed Carpenter in the slot. Brodeur blocked his shot, but Gartner came out from behind the goal line to net the rebound.

The Capitals ended the close game with three goals within 1 minute 53 seconds late in the second period. Haworth, Adams and Gartner connected for a 5-2 Washington lead.

The Canucks' power play went two for two to produce a short-lived 2-2 tie at 7:30. With Haworth off for tripping, Petri Skriko scored his 16th goal on a rebound of a shot by Rick Lanz. It was the 11th extra-man goal yielded by Washington in the last 26 shortages.

Riggin stopped a breakaway by Sundstrom before the Capitals turned up the heat.

Haworth broke the tie at 14:46, battling two Canucks to stay in front of the net, from where he scored on a rebound of Dave Christian's shot.

The Capitals' fourth goal at 15:10 was almost a copy of the second. Laughlin's pass to Jarvis set up a two-on-one with Adams against Michel Petit. When Petit committed to Jarvis, he fed Adams for another virtual empty netter.

Gartner, who also hit a post in the period, beat Brodeur from the left-wing circle at 16:39. Carpenter skated around the left-wing circle until he suddenly launched a shot that struck Duchesne and wound up on Gartner's stick.

Gartner completed his hat trick at 6:09 of the third period. Larry Murphy moved in unchallenged from the right point and took a shot off the side of the net. He continued behind the goal line, retrieved the puck and set up Gartner in front. It was Gartner's eighth career three-goal game.

Vancouver's Cam Neely cross checked Lou Franceschetti and the two fought briefly, with Neely sent off for seven minutes and Franceschetti five.

The only cloudy note for the Capitals came when winger Bengt Gustafsson reported lingering tenderness in his left hamstring, postponing his return to action.