Two goals ahead with less than 17 minutes left in regulation, the Washington Capitals were preparing to celebrate a rare victory over the Edmonton Oilers tonight. Instead, they settled for a tie.

Jari Kurri and Mark Napier scored two minutes apart to create a 3-3 deadlock and, despite some great chances on both sides, it ended that way following a five-minute overtime period.

It was the second 3-3 result between the teams here this season. Each time the Oilers came from behind in the third period to frustrate the Capitals, who have won here only once in six years.

"It's a big point for us, a confidence builder," said Washington's Bob Carpenter, who scored his 45th goal.

"We could have won and we should have won, but at least we know we can get points here. We'll be back for the finals, at least I hope we will, and we know we can play here."

Carpenter's goal broke a 1-1 tie midway through the second period. It came on a power play, as Scott Stevens took Mike Gartner's pass in the slot, faked goalie Andy Moog out of the net and fed Carpenter at the left post for an easy score.

It became 3-1 at 3:09 of the third period, with a quick move by Gaetan Duchesne facilitating a two-on-one with Carpenter, then Gartner trailing to score his 39th goal after Carpenter fumbled Duchesne's pass.

The Oilers, who managed only 21 shots, two in the first period, have a knack of striking quickly, however, and they wasted no time trimming the deficit.

Gartner's goal was being announced when Kurri netted his 59th a mere 27 seconds later. Wayne Gretzky's pass from behind the goal line found Kurri alone in front.

Two minutes later, Napier completed the scoring. He took Glenn Anderson's rink-wide pass in the right wing circle and beat Riggin on the short side.

"The key was, after we scored our third goal, they came right back," said Lou Franceschetti, who opened the scoring with his second goal of the season, both against Edmonton. "If we could have held them off a little while, I think it would have been in the bag."

The game was a confrontation of styles, Washington's defense against Edmonton's offense, and the Capitals' 28-21 shooting margin would indicate that Washington adhered to its game plan.

"We played the game the way we have to play against them," said Doug Jarvis, whose iron-man string reached 781. "For most of the game, we did everything the way we had to. The discouraging part is to be up two goals and they get back into it."

"Washington plays like Islander clones," said Edmonton's assistant coach, John Muckler. "They clog the middle and give you the outside. We're stubborn and we keep plugging, and eventually we got a couple of goals from trailers to tie it up."

Carpenter and Gretzky, whose assist extended his latest scoring streak to 10 games, were in the middle of some interesting action.

On the first Edmonton goal, Pat Hughes wrapped his stick around Carpenter's neck and spun him to the ice before racing down the right wing to convert Paul Coffey's pass. At the time, referee Bob Hall was watching another flareup and missed the foul.

With Edmonton short-handed later in the first period, the Oilers knocked the puck down the ice, with Gretzky in pursuit. Riggin hesitated to come out of the net and Gretzky beat him to the puck at the left wing boards. Riggin knocked Gretzky against the wood to prevent an easy score.

Late in the third period, Carpenter and Gretzky whacked each other with their sticks in front of the Washington net as played moved out of the zone.

Gretzky wound up on hands and knees, with the crowd of 17,498 howling for Carpenter's scalp. The fans were even angrier when both players were chased for "roughing."

"He tried to trip me, so as I turned to face the play, I put my stick between his legs," Carpenter said. "He speared me and then got close to me, so I couldn't get my stick loose. So I cross checked him down and he tried to make it look like I'd speared him."

The crowd got some pleasure out of an incident in the overtime, when Carpenter skated past the crease and Edmonton goalie Andy Moog reached out and knocked him off balance and onto the ice.

The Capitals' performance was especially worthy of praise, since they were without left wings Alan Haworth, who has a pulled groin muscle, and Bengt Gustafsson, who has a pulled hamstring.

Franceschetti helped make up for their absence with an outstanding performance. He had four shots on goal and threw solid checks on Coffey and Charlie Huddy.

"That was my best game as a pro by far," Franceschetti said. "(Coach) Bryan (Murray) had enough confidence in me to play me against Gretzky's line and (Mark) Messier's line. Because of my skating, I can keep up with them, and my game came together right from the start."

As beer is not sold in Northlands Coliseum, the crowd tends to be quiet. Accordingly, much of the first-period entertainment derived from Murray's frequent verbal jabs at referee Hall, which could be heard clearly throughout the building.

Murray was especially upset because the Oilers knocked down Carpenter whenever possible, without reaction from Hall. The message apparently reached Hall, because he called Lee Fogolin for cross checking Carpenter early in the second period.