Mike Gartner's three goals triggered the Washington Capitals' most decisive victory of the season, a 9-3 rout of the New Jersey Devils last night before 16,177 at Capital Centre.

Gartner, who tied Dennis Maruk's club record of 10 hat tricks, had an assist to join Bengt Gustafsson with four points in the game. In that respect, however, they were eclipsed by Dave Christian, whose two goals and three assists marked the first five-point game this season by a Capital.

Goaltender Al Jensen stopped 24 shots, including a sensational flurry of three early in the second period when the Devils vainly tried to reduce a 3-0 deficit. Jensen has not lost to New Jersey in his career, with 12 victories and a tie.

It was the seventh straight loss for the Devils, who had dropped a 3-2 game to the Capitals Friday night at Byrne Arena. The Devils' frustration showed in the late stages and a vicious elbow by Bob Lorimer sent Washington's Alan Haworth to George Washington University Hospital, where his injury was diagnosed as a contusion. He was to be kept overnight for observation.

Lorimer received a major penalty. Earlier, New Jersey's Pat Verbeek had been assessed a major for slashing Peter Andersson. Scoring during each of the five-minute advantages, the Capitals finished with three power-play goals.

The Devils have been exploited for at least one extra-man goal in 22 straight games.

Washington, which closed within six points of first-place Philadelphia in the Patrick Division, knows how a loser feels. Last night's victory finally evened the Capitals' home-ice record at 196-196-67 over 12 years.

On Friday, the Capitals jumped to a 3-0 lead and let the Devils battle back into contention. There was no such concern last night, with the score mounting to 7-0 in the second period.

"We were moving the puck very well and it was nice to pull away after getting up by three last night and letting them back in," Christian said. "That's the first time this season we've been able to build an early lead and put a team away."

Before last night, the Capitals' biggest victory margin had been four goals, and six of their previous nine wins had been by one goal.

Washington scored three times in the first nine minutes against New Jersey goalie Chico Resch, at 37 somewhat shakily trying to play back-to-back games.

After he was beaten on the Capitals' first two shots of the second period, Resch was relieved for eight minutes by rookie Sam St. Laurent, who yielded two goals in five shots before Resch returned to play the last 23 minutes.

St. Laurent's NHL debut was noteworthy in that he surrendered the goal that enabled Gartner to complete his hat trick, an accomplishment that gave Gartner one more goal last night than he had in the 12 previous games.

"I'm very happy to put a few in the net," Gartner said. "I was getting concerned by so long a drought. The past few years there were times where I'd get one and go a few games, then get another. But this was a real drought."

The Devils' power play had been dormant through 23 straight chances when it suddenly succeeded three times in the final period. Mark Johnson scored one goal and set up the other two as Jensen failed in a bid for a second straight shutout. Predictably, he was unconcerned.

"As long as we win, that's the only statistic that matters," Jensen said. "That was great tonight, to see the guys score all those goals. They've worked hard all the time without getting many breaks on their shots."

Pinpoint passing was responsible for many of the Capitals' goals, from Bob Carpenter's opening score at 1:34 on a fine setup by Lou Franceschetti to Christian's finale on a nice feed by Jorgen Pettersson.

Pettersson contributed three assists, and Carpenter and Laughlin each had a goal and an assist as 11 Capitals shared in the scoring.

"Finally tonight we were pretty convincing," said Coach Bryan Murray. "When we got ahead, we kept tramping. People were skating and going to the net and the passes were right on their sticks."

With a little more than two minutes left, a postwhistle scuffle left the Capitals two men short for two minutes, setting up the final New Jersey goal. Referee Ron Wicks assessed three minor penalties to Washington, one to New Jersey, the second time in a week the Capitals had been hit that way.

The first time, at Madison Square Garden, it led to a loss to the New York Rangers. Last night, it merely raised a few eyebrows.

Things were going so well for the Capitals that even captain Rod Langway accepted a few minutes of rest without complaint. He sat out the third period, nursing a slight groin pull that had slowed him a bit Friday night.