People watching all the baskets scored on television today would not have noticed much difference if they had switched to Washington Capitals hockey.

More than 25 percent of the shots wound up in the net as the Philadelphia Flyers whipped the Capitals, 9-6, and trimmed Washington's Patrick Division lead to two points.

The two teams meet again Friday at Capital Centre in their final regular-season meeting and the rematch figures to be played at a slower tempo, from semiexhaustion if nothing else.

There were no pauses to refresh tonight, as the Flyers took a 2-0 lead in the first minute, fell behind, 4-2, before the midpoint of the game and then scored five straight times in chasing goalie Pat Riggin for the first time this season.

Down, 7-4, the Capitals battled back on goals 59 seconds apart by Alan Haworth and Dean Evason. However, Tim Kerr completed his third hat trick of the season against Washington and Derrick Smith concluded the scoring into an empty net.

Dave Poulin also recorded three goals for the Flyers and Ilkka Sinisalo two, while Scott Stevens netted two power play goals for Washington.

There was general agreement that Kerr's second goal of the game, also his 50th of the season, was the big one for the winners. It came just 12 seconds after Bob Carpenter's 46th had given the Capitals a 4-2 advantage.

A few seconds later, Flyer Lindsay Carson speared Washington's Rod Langway and a resulting fight put Langway in the box for five minutes. While he was absent, Poulin scored twice to put the Flyers ahead to stay.

"We let them get right back in it," said Lou Franceschetti, one of the Capitals' heavy hitters in a contest that was physical as well as filled with red lights. "We're down 2-0 and we get a 4-2 lead in their building. The first minute after we score we shouldn't let them get back, not when the crowd's on their back. If we could have just held them a couple of minutes, it would have been a different ball game."

It was, of course, an entirely different game from what had been expected of the second- and third-best defensive clubs in the NHL. One could almost imagine Buffalo goalie Tom Barrasso chuckling at this score, which virtually guaranteed the Jennings Trophy for him and Bob Sauve.

"I guess two goals in the first minute were a pretty good indication that there'd be a few tonight," Poulin said. "The goals just came in bunches. There was some good goaltending, or it could have been a lot more."

"When you least expect it, sometimes you come up with a game that's completely out of character for both teams," said Flyers Coach Mike Keenan. "It wasn't by design. It just happened. The tempo and momentum changed so many times, it was good to have guys like Kerr and Poulin leading us to change it back our way."

The game was frenetic from the first faceoff and sticks were flying before 10 seconds had elapsed.

Flyer Peter Zezel blocked a pass by Mike McEwen and the puck bounced behind the Washington net, where Riggin played it. Zezel pursued and banged Riggin's stick, which prompted the goalie to respond like an executioner.

Riggin's slash failed to behead Zezel; it merely created a fuss involving all the players on the ice and earned the goalie his first penalty of the season.

Kerr, who has 12 goals in six games against Washington, quickly made the power play pay off, beating Riggin high on the glove side at 34 seconds. Fifteen seconds later, after Rich Sutter had knocked Larry Murphy off the puck, Poulin passed Riggin low on the glove side and it was 2-0.

Two power play goals by Stevens tied it before the intermission. Dave Christian's 26th goal snapped the tie 17 seconds into the second period and Carpenter picked up Darren Veitch's 80-foot lob pass to make it 4-2.

The Capitals were still patting backs on the bench when Kerr tipped Mark Howe's long shot over Riggin's right shoulder. Then, with Langway lured off, Poulin hit twice from close range before Riggin, who had knocked the puck behind the net, could recover in the face of quick Flyer passes into areas bereft of Washington defenders.

After Sinisalo sent the puck between Riggin's legs at 2:01 of the third period, Coach Bryan Murray summoned Al Jensen to Riggin's relief. Murray also tried to call a timeout to give Jensen a brief warmup, but referee Dave Newell said he had waited too long to call it.

The third shot at Jensen wound up in the net, Sinisalo converting Zezel's pass out of the right wing corner.

With the crowd of 17,191 celebrating apparent victory, Washington battled back. Haworth, playing despite a shoulder that was damaged Tuesday, fired a 50-foot slap shot off the crossbar into the net. Then Dean Evason, as he was pulled down by Doug Crossman, managed to shove a loose puck past goalie Bob Froese to make it 7-6.

Again, it was less than a minute before Kerr replied. This time he deflected Brad McCrimmon's shot past Jensen for his 51st goal.

Asked why he is so successful against Washington, Kerr said, "It's just one of those things. It seems everything I shoot against them goes in. Against some other teams, I can shoot all night and not score. I don't think they give me any more room than anyone else, although their defense against the power play hasn't been the greatest."

It could be tough for both teams to play again Friday, but Washington might find itself facing the greater problems. Aside from the case of who to put in the net, injuries may sideline Haworth and Bengt Gustafsson.

Haworth's sore shoulder was worsened by a second-period incident in which Brad Marsh pulled Haworth down and held him. Gustafsson bruised his left hand when he blocked a puck in the first period -- "I tried to play goalie," he said -- and he was unable to hold his stick properly in the third period.

Murray said Gary Sampson probably would be recalled from Binghamton for Friday's contest and other changes were possible.

"I'm still trying to clear my mind from that disaster," Murray said. "Any time you give up nine goals it's very discouraging. For what was supposed to be a big game for two teams like this, we were just brutal. We'd better play much better or we'll get smoked again."