This has not been a memorable season for Bob Carpenter. With the Stanley Cup playoffs approaching, however, Carpenter has raised the level of his play, and last night his two goals were the key to the Washington Capitals' 5-3 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

As a result, the Capitals closed within one point of Patrick Division leader Philadelphia. Before the Flyers come to Capital Centre Sunday, they have a chance to rebuild their lead to three with a home-ice game this afternoon against the New York Rangers.

Slightly more than two minutes after the Jets had erased a two-goal deficit to create a third-period tie last night, Carpenter sent his 26th goal past Dan Bouchard for the eventual game-winner.

Considerable excitement remained for the sellout crowd of 18,130 at the Centre, as the Jets bitterly protested that Greg Adams' insurance goal with 7:41 remaining had not entered the net.

"It's about time the league got instant replay," said Winnipeg Coach John Ferguson during a locker-room temper tantrum.

The question was what happened to the puck after Adams shot it a second time, following a stop in front by Bouchard. Goal judge Elliott Knight thought the puck was in the net and turned on the red light. Referee Terry Gregson signaled the goal and, when the Jets protested vehemently, checked with Knight by phone before confirming his original decision.

The Jets said the puck struck the post and Knight was fooled because Craig Laughlin's stick caused the net to bulge upward.

"I saw him Adams shoot, and the net moved," Knight said. "I firmly believe the puck was in."

"The puck actually came off and hit me in the head," said Winnipeg's Randy Carlyle, who angrily clutched his throat and pointed to his head while screaming at Knight through the glass. "Somebody's stick hit the top corner of the net, and they put the light on. What a difference that was. How many times have you seen a team pull its goalie and tie the score?"

"My first reaction was I thought it was in," said Adams, smiling broadly. "Then everybody starts yapping and you question yourself. I held the puck and shot, and it went near where the post and crossbar meet. I thought it went underneath where they meet. In fact, I was startled when play went on for a bit before they stopped it.

" Laughlin's stick hit the top of the net, but the puck was at least a foot away from it."

Said McLaughlin: "I saw the puck coming across and I thought it was going wide, so I tried to get my stick up to deflect it. It hit the net instead. I guess they might have got my stick mixed up with the puck."

If most of the fans left wondering what really happened on Adams' goal, Washington Coach Bryan Murray was much more interested in the emergence of Carpenter as an offensive force to be reckoned with, in the manner of his 53-goal season a year ago.

"He went to the net, he drew a couple of penalties and he scored a couple of goals," Murray said. "He had a couple of other chances, too. If he can continue that kind of showing, we'll be that much ahead of the game when the playoffs start."

Carpenter opened the scoring off a fine drop pass from Laughlin. He deked Bouchard and hit the side of the net late in the second period with the score 3-2, then produced the winner 128 seconds after a brilliant unassisted score by Dale Hawerchuk had pulled Winnipeg even at 3-3 early in the third.

Hawerchuk lifted the puck from Greg Smith in center ice, skated past John Barrett with a dazzling fake and slid the puck between Al Jensen's legs for his 43rd goal. At that point, things looked good for the Jets, who are fighting for a playoff berth in the Smythe Division.

But Carpenter quickly took the wind out of the Jets' sails. When a shot by Larry Murphy struck Laughlin and popped high in the air, Carpenter controlled the puck with his right skate, then lifted it into the net as Bouchard and defenseman Brad Berry flopped to the ice.

"It was a good game," Carpenter said. "It's been happening for a while. The last five or six games I've been playing pretty good for a period or two, but the puck would hit the post or just miss. It's starting to happen now, and I hope it keeps going right through the playoffs."

It also was a good night for Kevin Hatcher, who had his first goal in 27 games and his first point in 18, and Dave Christian, who scored his 37th goal of the season. It was less satisfying for Gaetan Duchesne, who needed repairs after taking a stick in the mouth in the first period, but was able to return.

"It had to happen some time," Hatcher said. "I've been reading the statistics, and after 17 or 18 games without a point, you can't help thinking about it. I can't worry about it, though, because the team is playing great and that's what really matters."