The Philadelphia Flyers regained the Patrick Division lead tonight with a masterful 2-0 victory over the first-place occupants of the previous 48 hours, the Washington Capitals.

Ilkka Sinisalo scored the only goal that was needed at 4:36 of the first period as the two best defensive teams in the National Hockey League waged what no doubt will be a preview of things to come should they meet in a Stanley Cup playoff series. Dave Poulin hit an empty net with 12 seconds left to wrap it up.

Fans paid scalpers as much as $125 a ticket to see the close-checking game, so close at times that it resembled tackling on a football field. Still, there were enough opportunities for Philadelphia to put 30 shots on goal, Washington 19.

Bob Froese was the stalwart in the Flyers' net, recording his fifth shutout of the season to leave the Capitals frustrated here once again.

Washington, which had an eight-game winning streak stopped and fell one point behind the Flyers, has scored only one goal while dropping all three games at the Spectrum this season.

"That's what's hurting us, not scoring," said defenseman Larry Murphy. "We're playing as well as they are, but when you get a good chance, you have to put it away. We just can't seem to do that here."

Pete Peeters had an outstanding game in the Washington net, keeping the Capitals in contention during a first period in which they were outshot, 11-3.

"Pete made some big saves early to keep it close," said Dave Christian, the only Capital to score here this season. "Then we missed our opportunities. Give Froese credit -- he made some big stops. But we've got to score more than that."

Sinisalo scored his 32nd goal on a drive from the right-wing circle on which Peeters was screened by Murray Craven. Craven crossed the blueline, dropped the puck for Pelle Eklund and headed for the net, where he was in position to be a distraction after Sinisalo accepted Eklund's short pass.

The Capitals had five excellent chances to tie it the rest of the way, but Froese was invincible.

On Washington's first shot, at 10:40, Froese moved out to foil Bengt Gustafsson, set up by Christian at the finish of a two-on-one. Just before the period ended, Froese slid to his right to block Christian on a setup by Scott Stevens.

Froese got his left pad on Dwight Schofield's drive from the slot in the second period. Then in the third he hung on to a Mike Gartner drive from close range, looking behind him in fear the puck had gotten past.

With two minutes left, Christian hit the far post from the right-wing circle with Froese beaten. Christian, who has not scored a goal in 10 games, struck two posts in Tuesday's 5-3 victory over Pittsburgh.

"I heard it ring off the post and I was real happy when I saw it go off into the corner," Froese said. "They didn't have many chances. I thought in the third period they might try to take more shots from long range, just to put a few on net, but they didn't."

Things were so tense in the third period that the 20 minutes of playing time required an hour to complete. It was not unusual for the teams to jockey 30 seconds on a faceoff before the puck could be dropped.

With the tension came a flurry of uncalled fouls and it was no surprise that both teams swarmed onto the ice after the final buzzer, exchanging insults but stopping short of total war.

It was a wonder, considering the things referee Bryan Lewis ignored, that there were no serious incidents. As it was, there were some bad scenes, but things never reached the depths of the 49-penalty game between the teams that Lewis officiated at Capital Centre in January.

In the third period, the Flyers' Ron Sutter pursued Murphy down the ice, repeatedly whacking him with his stick. When Sutter nailed Murphy on the right elbow, Murphy responded with a vicious slash. Each player received a minor penalty, a ruling that prompted some in the crowd of 17,211 to chant obscenities at the referee.

Stevens had to be shoved into the penalty box by teammates after he and the Flyers' Rick Tocchet received third-period penalties for delay of game, a particularly strange call since the two had been slashing each other before the exchange of words that finally drew Lewis' attention.

Stevens, his left shoulder heavily taped, was in the trainer's room afterward and unavailable for comment, but Murray had plenty to say: "Scott has to know what Tocchet's doing, but it would be nice if the referee could understand it, too. Tocchet gives Scott a shot and Lewis sends them both off. That's exactly what Philly wants."

Peeters was another frustrated Capital. He was penalized after just 71 seconds for deliberately dislodging the net. Since the net came off numerous times thereafter, it was apparent that something was wrong with the magnets. Peeters still was debating the point with Lewis at center ice after the game.

"[Linesman] John D'Amico lifted the thing right off; it wasn't magnetized," Peeters said. "I think that was a terrible call at the start of a game. But I wasn't going to let him [Lewis] get to me early in the game.

"I'd have given anything to open a three-point lead on these guys, but it wasn't meant to be." Islanders 3, Whalers 2

Mike Bossy scored his 52nd goal of the season with 27 seconds remaining in the third period to give New York the win in Hartford. Bruins 3, Canadiens 2

Keith Crowder and Geoff Courtnall scored for Boston in the first four minutes and the Bruins held on behind the goaltending of Pat Riggin. Maple Leafs 7, Devils 4

Rick Vaive scored two goals and set up two and Tom Fergus had a goal and two assists to rally Toronto to the victory in East Rutherford, N.J. North Stars 3, Blues 2

Brian Lawton scored with 57 seconds left to finish off a third-period rally that gave Minnesota the win in St. Louis.