The Washington Capitals will be missing center Alan Haworth when they defend their newly earned Patrick Division lead against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at the Spectrum.

Haworth, who scored his 31st goal in Tuesday's 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh, suffered a minor fracture of the ulna bone in his right wrist during the third period and will be out for at least two weeks.

Haworth had no idea how the injury occurred. He felt some pain in the wrist, thought he had bruised it and continued to play. However, after yesterday's practice at Mount Vernon, he experienced difficulty taking faceoffs. X-rays were ordered, and the fracture was discovered.

"It just came out of the blue," said Haworth, who was having by far his best NHL season. "I collided with somebody in the third period and I came back to our bench and the wrist was hurting. I figured I'd been slashed.

"I rubbed it off and came back, but when I took a pass my hand kind of shivered a bit. I still didn't think it was anything more than a sprain.

"This morning, it was pretty stiff and the more practice went on, the more it hurt. After practice, I took a couple of faceoffs and it just wasn't right. [Trainer] Dick [Young] looked at it and he scheduled me for X-rays and they found out about it.

"It's just sensitive, and I feel like I could play and all that, but they want to keep me out, just to make sure it doesn't get worse. I hate to miss this game, but I just hope I'm back before the end. I feel this race is going to be to the deadline and I'd like to be part of it."

Haworth's X-ray was the final blow in a weird day that began with center Bengt Gustafsson's automobile accident on his way to practice. Gustafsson's Corvette was rammed from behind by a truck on Rte. 50 in Davidsonville, but he was uninjured and arrived just in time for the workout.

"The right lane was closed for construction and the car ahead stopped and I stopped; the truck didn't stop," Gustafsson said. "I hit my head on the top of the car and I was kind of shaky, but I'm fine now. The insurance company can have what's left of the car."

Left wing Greg Adams was upset when he arrived a half-hour late for practice after being caught for 80 minutes in a massive traffic jam at the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. By nightfall, his distress had been downgraded to the inconsequential.

The Capitals carry an eight-game winning streak into Philadelphia along with their one-point lead over the Flyers. They also take with them the knowledge that they have not won at the Spectrum in two years.

After twice dropping decisions in Philadelphia (4-0 in January, 3-1 in February) when they came within striking distance of first place, the Capitals finally reached the top spot by beating every Patrick club except the Flyers while their arch rivals were losing five of seven.

Tonight's game is the first of three confrontations between Philadelphia and Washington before the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The teams will meet at Capital Centre March 23, then close the regular season at the Spectrum April 6.

Obviously, this is about as vital a matchup as the regular season can produce, but both coaches yesterday attempted to keep it in perspective.

"When we're in the position we're in now, we'd like to remain there," said Washington's Bryan Murray. "But I don't know that it will do any great damage to our psychological makeup if we lose. We do have to win a game in the Spectrum this year if we're going to get by them, and it would be a big boost if we could win tomorrow."

"It's not do or die," said Philadelphia's Mike Keenan. "The playoffs don't start until April. It's an important game, but we're not exactly facing elimination."

Both clubs want to finish first for more than just prestige. The winner most likely would avoid a postseason matchup with the New York Islanders, the playoff-tested team that has eliminated Washington three years in a row. Also, the higher finisher would get home-ice advantage in a potential divisional final.

Philadelphia has the NHL's best home record, 26-5-1, and Washington is enjoying a club-record run of eight straight victories at Capital Centre.

Despite the Capitals' sad experiences on the last two visits, the team's recent roll has most of the players looking forward to tonight's contest.

"It's really nice to go up there and be in first place," said defenseman Scott Stevens. "It ought to make us a lot more relaxed, not so tight like we were the last two times."

"We want to go to Philly and hopefully build on our lead," said winger Bob Gould. "It's good to be first, and if we can get three points up on them, it would really mean something."

The two teams are in almost opposite circumstances from a year ago, when the Capitals had an 11-point lead over the Flyers in February and eventually finished 12 points behind.

This season, it was the Flyers who were ahead by 11 in February, only to see the margin swept away by a four-game losing streak and the Capitals' winning surge.

The turnabout was sudden, as evidenced by the following passage from The Philadelphia Inquirer of Feb. 27: "With first place in the Patrick Division all but assured, the Flyers are looking for a solid road trip to help them reach other goals."

Those "other goals" -- a defensive average under three goals a game and catching Edmonton for first place overall -- no longer occupy the Flyers' thoughts.

Both teams strengthened themselves for the stretch run and playoffs with deals completed not long before the Tuesday trading deadline.

The Flyers, dissatisfied with the recent play of rookie Darren Jensen, picked up veteran goaltender Chico Resch from New Jersey for a draft pick in a deal effected when Jay Snider, Philadelphia's president, overcame the reluctance of New Jersey General Manager Max McNab by appealing directly to the Devils' owner, John McMullen.

Resch, still nimble at 37, constitutes a sound insurance policy for Bob Froese, the NHL's top goalie statistically but unproven in postseason play.

The Capitals, aware that they came up short in the area of toughness on previous visits to Philadelphia, obtained Greg Smith and John Barrett from Detroit as their fifth and sixth defensemen in place of the more passive Darren Veitch and Peter Andersson.

Both newcomers played well in Tuesday's 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh. They were key figures in Stevens' game-winning goal, as Smith blocked a Pittsburgh shot and Barrett quickly moved the puck ahead to Adams to start the decisive play. Bruins 5, Penguins 2

Charlie Simmer scored two first-period goals as visiting Boston ended a three-game losing streak. It was Pittsburgh's fifth straight defeat.

Simmer was credited with his 30th goal of the year at 4:22 when Dave Pasin's centering pass deflected off his skate.

Pittsburgh's Mario Lemieux scored his 44th goal of the season at 13:39 of the final period, extending his team-record point-scoring streak to 27 games. Flames 3, Rangers 2

In New York, Dan Quinn scored a goal and set up two as Calgary edged New York. Every goal in the game came on the power play.

The Flames led, 3-0, through two periods before the Rangers rallied for two goals.

Rangers right wing Pierre Larouche fractured his thumb. He will be re-examined in five days and a prognosis made at that point. Canadiens 3, Canucks 2

Center Stephane Richer scored late in the final period to lift Montreal over visiting Vancouver. The victory boosted Montreal's first-place lead over Quebec in the Adams Division to three points. Oilers 8, Jets 5

Edmonton's checking line of Craig MacTavish, Mike Krushelnyski and Mark Napier combined for 10 points and goaltender Grant Fuhr survived a 54-shot barrage to lead the Oilers over Winnipeg.

MacTavish scored two goals and had an assist on Napier's first-period goal. Napier had two assists and Krushelnyski four. Sabres 7, Blackhawks 6

In Chicago, Paul Cyr started a three-goal second period for Buffalo and Richie Dunn scored two goals to help the Sabres to the victory.

Chicago's Steve Larmer had a hat trick. Red Wings 3, Kings 0

Greg Stefan stopped 28 shots for his third career NHL shutout as Detroit won in Los Angeles.

The Kings, who have been shut out five times this season, lost their ninth straight at home, breaking a team record set in 1971.