Forty-two Santa Clauses cavorted on the ice between periods at Le Colisee today, so perhaps it was fitting that Christmas presents were distributed early to several members of the Washington Capitals.

The most prized souvenir for all was the 7-5, come-from-behind victory over the Quebec Nordiques that ended an arduous five-game, nine-day trip from coast to coast through weather good, bad and close to intolerable.

Three times today the Capitals wiped out one-goal Quebec leads, with Craig Laughlin scoring off a drop pass from Alan Haworth to make it 5-5 with 10:55 remaining.

Within the next 2 minutes 42 seconds, Bob Carpenter and Greg Adams also scored and, a few Al Jensen saves later, the Capitals were celebrating both a third straight vcitory in this usually inhospitable building and the conclusion of a 3-1-1 journey that featured better results than travel arrangements.

Jensen, who never had beaten the Nordiques, extended his personal undefeated streak to 11 games by weathering a 41-shot barrage, the most against the Capitals this season.

"It was great to pull it out in the third period," Jensen said. "We were tired and it was the last game of the road trip, but all the guys dug down real deep. It's a big, big win."

If Jensen is accustomed to the Ws that regularly follow his name, some of the other Capitals had good reason to think Christmas had arrived early.

Carpenter, who almost sat out a game for the first time in his five NHL seasons, took a rebound in the slot, spun and beat goaltender Clint Malarchuk to produce the game-winner. It was his first goal in 10 games and he pointed out that the spin was on his left foot, not on a right ankle badly swollen from being hit by a puck in Winnipeg Friday.

"That's the closest I ever came to sitting out," Carpenter said. "It was really bothering me. It had swollen so much I had trouble getting into the boot and I had a lot of pain tying it.

"I figured it would loosen up after I skated on it, but I came in after the warmup and sat down and then when I got up again, it felt so bad I was sorry I told (Coach) Bryan (Murray) I could play.

"It helped me to play left wing (with Jorgen Pettersson at center), because I had a big problem every time I had to turn, and at center there's a lot more turning. It hurt a lot, but it paid off and now there's three days to rest it."

Haworth, another doubtful starter after suffering a charley horse in the muscle above his right knee in Winnipeg, had a goal and three assists to reach the holiday break with 17 goals and 35 points, just one goal and two points away from the team lead.

"My leg was really stiff yesterday, but I had a lot of treatments -- heat and the new ultrasound machine -- and they really helped. It bothered me on certain plays and I wasn't 100 percent, but it was an important game and I'm glad I gave it a try."

Lou Franceschetti, who started out the day by arriving late for the bus to the rink, got his first goal of the season to open the scoring. It was something that seemed destined never to come, after he was denied credit for a tip-in in Edmonton and shot wide with goalie Brian Hayward at his mercy in Winnipeg.

"I had a good chance the other night, but I panicked and missed the net," Franceschetti said. "Tonight, I went for the net and it took a couple of whacks, but I put it a couple of inches over the line. It's good to get that first one off my back.

"Pete Peeters offered to pay my fine (for being late for the bus) if I scored a goal, so you could say I had some extra incentive. I had an 11 o'clock wakeup call, but the bed felt too good. Then they called and said it was 12:05 and I thought, 'Oh, oh.' At least they waited for me."

Another long wait ended when Darren Veitch scored his first goal of the season to create a 3-3 tie in the second period.

"I just had to get it on net, because Locker (Laughlin) and Scotty (Stevens) were screening the goalie," Veitch said. "He couldn't have seen it. I had a deal with Bryan and (assistant coach) Terry (Murray) to get a goal before the end of the road trip. They're happy, I guess."

Adams' two goals gave him 10, matching his best NHL season three years ago with Hartford. He totaled only eight in the last two seasons as a Capital.

"I'm very happy the way it's going, but there's a lot of season left," Adams said. "We wanted to finish the road trip with a win. If we'd lost today, we'd have been .500 on the trip, but we talked after the second period and said we're better than a .500 team, and we showed we are."

Stevens assisted on four of the Capitals' seven goals, a return to offensive form for a defenseman who rolled up 44 assists last year but had only 10 before today.

The Nordiques were deprived of a goal when Anton Stastny beat Jensen a second after the first period ended. In the second period, the light came on after Paul Gillis shoved Jensen into the net with the puck, but referee Bill McCreary waved it off.

"I knew it was very close at the end of the period," Jensen said. "I looked up and saw no time left and I just hoped it wouldn't count."