It was a bad night for late arrivals among the Capital Centre crowd of 11,100. For the Washington Capitals, however, last night proved highly profitable, as they defeated the Minnesota North Stars, 7-5, and moved within six points of Patrick Division-leader Philadelphia.

The Capitals had a 4-0 lead before Minnesota put a shot a goal, connecting on four straight shots in the first seven minutes while many patrons still were straggling in.

Before it was over, however, the Capitals were hanging on the ropes and Minnesota's shot total of 36 at Al Jensen was the highest by a visiting team at Capital Centre this season. It took an empty-net goal by Bob Carpenter with nine seconds left to clinch it.

"We got trapped," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "The goals came easy early on and, instead of being disciplined and putting them away, we went for more. That's asking for trouble."

Trouble for Jensen and the Capitals developed quickly in the last minute of the second period, with Washington breezing, 5-1. Before long, it was like a tidal wave, threatening to bury them.

Jensen blocked a shot by Bob Rouse, but lost his stick as defender Darren Veitch battled Minnesota's Dennis Maruk outside the crease. That made it easy for Brian Lawton to put in the rebound, 32 seconds before the intermission.

"Somebody went to the net and I got tangled up in a couple of people," Jensen said. "I lost my stick; I really don't know how. I thought at first Maruk did it and I reacted, but I wasn't sure."

Jensen was sure about the next incident in which he was involved. As the buzzer sounded, Lawton threw a shoulder into him and knocked him down. Jensen rose and went after Lawton, with a number of players from both sides ultimately becoming involved. In the end, only Jensen was penalized by referee Ron Wicks, for roughing.

"I was skating out and the guy blindsided me," Jensen said. "I got knocked over and I reacted to it and I got a penalty."

With the Capitals a man short early in the third period, Jensen blocked two shots and was lying on his side when Brian Bellows lifted a rebound over him. Jensen somehow raised his leg and kicked it away in midair. Although play continued briefly and the goal judge gave no signal, Bellows complained to Wicks, who called a halt and ruled the puck had crossed the goal line before Jensen booted it away.

Jensen charged the referee, but was restrained by teammate Rod Langway. Then, after Jensen watched the replay that indicated the puck had not crossed the line, he was out screaming again.

"To my eyes, it didn't go in," Jensen said. "I was down and I just tried to get my legs up and it hit my leg and dropped down. His eyes thought it was a goal. He's only human and I'm only human.

"It was just a reaction by me. I don't blow my stack too often. I got a penalty and I figure maybe I deserved it, but after a goal like that I just reacted."

Bob Gould deflected a Gaetan Duchesne shot past goalie Don Beaupre to rebuild Washington's lead to 6-3, but 62 seconds later Bellows skated in alone and fell over Jensen after the goalie made the save. The puck slipped away and, from behind the goal line, Tom McCarthy steered the puck around the right post for his second goal of the game.

At the midpoint of the period, Bellows came in again and shot. With Jensen deep in the goalmouth, it appeared that the puck might have crossed the line before Jensen reached out and pulled it back. This time, Wicks gave the goalie the benefit of the doubt.

"It was very close," Jensen said. "I didn't really see it, but I know it was close."

More than eight minutes remained when Scott Bjugstad converted a Dino Ciccarelli pass to close within 6-5. Thereafter, however, the Capitals dominated play and after Beaupre was lifted for a sixth skater with 51 seconds left, Minnesota did not have a good chance to tie it.

In the Capitals' remarkable early burst, Bengt Gustafsson, Craig Laughlin, Dave Christian and Kevin Hatcher fired consecutive shots past Beaupre within a span of 3 minutes 2 seconds.

Christian assisted on two of them, and the one he scored was his 25th. "Twenty-five just comes after 24 for me," he said. "Now I want 26. I'll take them one at a time and, hopefully, I'll keep getting good shots and keep putting the puck in the net."

After McCarthy scored 25 seconds into the second period, Alan Haworth converted a perfect goalmouth pass from Greg Adams for his 24th goal, matching his NHL high.