The Washington Capitals are back in first place in the Patrick Division, this time for more than a few hours.

Twice battling from behind, the Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, last night before 14,864 at Capital Centre. It was their eighth straight victory and enables them to carry a one-point lead into Philadelphia for Thursday's game against the Flyers.

Scott Stevens produced the game-winning goal early in the third period, after Bengt Gustafsson had created a 3-3 tie late in the second. In each case, some dandy digging behind the net set up the score, Bob Gould for Stevens and Gaetan Duchesne for Gustafsson.

Duchesne clinched the club-record eighth straight home-ice triumph into an empty net in rather unusual fashion with 10 seconds left. He blocked Moe Mantha's shot inside the Washington blueline, and the puck rebounded off his left ankle and rolled about 150 feet into the net.

"I went down to block the shot, then I get up and I see everybody looking and the puck is rolling right in," Duchesne said. "I remembered two years ago, when I was going into an empty net and my stick blade fell off. Now we're even."

Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux earned an assist to extend his scoring streak to 26 games, but he failed to convert three breakaways against Al Jensen and rapped a post off a third-period faceoff.

"I should have scored on at least two of them," Lemieux said. "Naturally, I think about my chances tonight. I didn't put them in, and that's why we lost. This team needs goals from me, especially on the road."

The Penguins lost their fourth straight and their fourth-place margin over the New York Rangers was reduced to one point.

The team dressed so quickly that it boarded the bus and left for the airport without a group led by Paul Martha, the Penguins' vice president and general counsel, who had to beg a ride from Washington officials.

Pittsburgh had reason to be disappointed, because it played a strong, hard-hitting game and still came up empty for the 17th time in its last 18 meetings with the Capitals.

After Bob Carpenter's 23rd goal sent Washington off on top, the Penguins moved in front on first-period scores by Terry Ruskowski, off a Lemieux power-play setup, and Randy Cunneyworth.

Alan Haworth's 31st goal, on a rebound of a Mike Gartner shot, created a 2-2 tie early in the second period while Ville Siren was serving a penalty for holding Duchesne.

The Capitals outshot Pittsburgh, 7-1, over the first six minutes of the period and were foiled on an eighth when Dave Christian hit the crossbar. Then Dave Hannan beat Jensen with a low shot into the far corner from the left-wing circle, and Pittsburgh had a 3-2 lead.

Penguins goalie Gilles Meloche, a 20-game winner against Washington, deflected a close-range shot by Christian and stopped a breakaway by Carpenter before Gustafsson's 22nd goal tied it at 3.

Duchesne fought the Penguins' Norm Schmidt for 20 feet along the boards behind the Pittsburgh net, then slid a one-handed pass out to Gustafsson for the score.

"I was the first guy in and he gave me a body check and held on to me," Duchesne said. "He kept trying to get me, but I put one hand on him and I used the other hand on the stick to pass the puck out to Gus."

Early in the third period, Lemieux failed on his third breakaway of the game, as Jensen stayed with him and blocked the shot with his chest.

Not long after, Gould deflected Greg Adams' shot and Siren grabbed the puck behind the net. Gould checked Siren off the puck, turned and fed Stevens, who fired the puck over Meloche's left shoulder from the left-wing circle.

"I tried to deflect Greg's shot, but it went wide," Gould said. "No. 5 Siren took it, and I picked his pocket or knocked him off the puck or whatever you guys like to say. I went around the net and I saw Scotty and he put it away."

The winner was Stevens' fourth goal in the last five games and he said, "Things are going good. I'm picking the right time to stay back and the right time to pick a hole and go in. I only get about two good chances a game and it's nice to be able to take advantage of them."

It was Stevens, Gould said, who came into the dressing room after the second period and told his teammates, "First place is on the line for more than four hours, so let's go out and get it."

Christian might have been as frustrated as Lemieux if Washington had lost. He hit two posts and Meloche stopped him five times.

Jensen was playing for the first time in nine days after suffering a twinge in his left knee. Now 10-1-1 lifetime against Pittsburgh, he said of Lemieux, "He had me beat once and hit the post. He has a long reach and he's only going to get better."

Washington Coach Bryan Murray said, "It was a great hockey game, a hard-working game and both goaltenders were excellent. It was a quality defensive game on our part. If the game's on the line, every night we're able to dig down and do something different to win it." Islanders 8, Flames 4

Mike Bossy scored four times and extended his NHL record for 50-goal seasons to nine straight in leading New York to the victory over visiting Calgary. Nordiques 1, Canucks 1

Mike Eagles scored his eighth goal of the season early in the third period to give Quebec the tie with visiting Vancouver. Rangers 6, Devils 3

Barry Beck and Chris Jensen scored 18 seconds apart in a four-goal second period that carried New York to the win in East Rutherford, N.J. North Stars 4, Oilers 0

Goaltender Don Beaupre shut out Edmonton's high-scoring attack and Dennis Maruk assisted on two goals to lead Minnesota at home. Blues 3, Sabres 2

Defenseman Charlie Bourgeois put a slap shot through goalie Tom Barrasso's legs at 2:04 of overtime to give St. Louis, playing at home, a come-from-behind victory over Buffalo.