As far as the New Jersey Devils are concerned, there was one Greg Adams too many on the ice at Capital Centre last night.

The Devils' Greg Adams scored an unassisted goal late in the second period to lift New Jersey into a 4-2 lead, prompting many in the sellout crowd of 18,130 to rain boos on the home-standing Washington Capitals.

But it was Washington's Greg Adams who eventually sent the same folks home happy. Adams scored on a breakaway with 83 seconds left to give the Capitals a most welcome 5-4 victory.

The Devils, who have the third-worst record in the NHL, have won only two of their last 20 games. But after dropping successive games to Detroit and Toronto, the only two teams with poorer marks, the Capitals were not brimming with confidence when they fell behind.

"When things are going bad, you get down and it's tough to come back," said Dave Christian, who started the Capitals' comeback before the second period ended with his 29th goal. "Maybe winning like this will give us the confidence we need."

Scoring the goal ought to give Adams more confidence, too. It was his 14th, not bad for a winger whose previous career-high was 10.

The Capitals had dominated the third period, piling up a 13-2 margin in shots and closing within a goal on Bob Carpenter's 15th. But rookie Alain Chevrier was making some remarkable saves for New Jersey and the way things have been going for Washington, nobody was making bets on the outcome.

Suddenly, Larry Murphy sent a headman pass to Adams, who took it on the fly behind defenders Randy Velischek and Bob Lorimer. Chevrier moved out and Adams shifted the puck to his backhand before lifting a shot that struck the goalie's left arm and landed in the net.

"I felt confident when I shot," Adams said. "Sometimes you feel nervous in that situation, but I think maybe I wasn't because he was out of the net so far. He still got a good chunk of it, so maybe I was overconfident.

"When you've only got first gear in a three-speed sport, you don't get a lot of breakaways. But if you get a jump on a guy, even I can look like Bobby Orr. The play was stagnant and I was cruising at three-quarters speed while nobody else was moving. Larry made a great pass and their right defense (Lorimer) stood up too much (at the blueline), so I was home free."

Murphy's perfect pass atoned for an earlier miscue, when he lost the puck inside his blueline and John MacLean pounced on it and scored.

"Rod (Langway) passed me the puck and I looked up the ice and saw Addie going full steam," Murphy said. "I gave him the puck and he did the rest. The way it's been going, it'll take a win like that to straighten us out."

The outcome was not sealed until Washington goalie Al Jensen blocked a shot by Joe Cirella with 23 seconds left and, watching the puck pop in the air while he sat on the ice, caught it on the way down.

Bob Gould sent the Capitals in front at 3:49 of the first period, before New Jersey put a shot on goal. But MacLean tied it on the Devils' first shot and Tim Higgins' rebound sent New Jersey in front.

After Craig Laughlin lifted Washington into a 2-2 tie early in the second period, goals by Rich Preston and New Jersey's Adams brought the wrath of the crowd on the Capitals.

"I didn't really notice it," Adams said. "At that point maybe we deserved it. We'd played poorly the last two games and maybe they perceived we were playing poorly again, but I thought we just got beat in certain situations."

Christian, foiled on breakaways before and after, converted another on-target Murphy pass to lift Washington within a goal, putting a low backhander past Chevrier's glove to match his NHL season-high of 29.

Carpenter evened the score at 7:41 of the third period, taking a return pass from Lou Franceschetti and tipping the puck past Chevrier while skating backward in the check of Phil Russell.

"I hoped it in," Carpenter said. "Louie made a good pass and I just tried to get my stick on it. I had my back to it, so I don't know how it got by."

It was a tough loss for the Devils, the only NHL team out of playoff contention. They lost defenseman Craig Wolanin with a broken finger and, for a closing slap in the face, rode a bus home for four hours after the game, preparatory to a 5 o'clock game today against the New York Islanders.

The Capitals, maintaining their six-point margin over the third-place Islanders, resume play tonight in Hartford. As befits winners, they will fly there.