It will take the Washington Capitals at least seven more weeks to acquire that first hockey banner for Capital Centre.

The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Capitals, 5-3, tonight and won the Patrick Division championship by three points. But Washington did not go down without making this rare season-ending title bout one to remember.

Jorgen Pettersson and Craig Laughlin scored 52 seconds apart in the first period to give the Capitals an early 2-0 lead, their first of the season at the Spectrum. The Flyers wiped that out by the first minute of the second period and appeared to be breezing when Washington pulled off one last hurrah.

Goalie Pete Peeters came off for a sixth skater with 3:13 remaining, and 65 seconds later Laughlin scored from the slot to close the gap to 4-3.

It was Laughlin's 30th goal, but it also was the end of the line for the Capitals, as the Flyers' Brian Propp completed a hat trick into an empty net with 1:15 on the clock. It was the 600th NHL point for Propp, who participated in every Philadelphia goal tonight.

"We had a chance to get back in it and there was a lot of time left," Laughlin said. "They played extremely well, but we had our chances. We don't have anything to be ashamed of."

The Capitals do have something else to worry about, though. Center Bob Carpenter suffered an injury to his left knee in the first period and, after skating a few shifts in the second, left the game. He will be examined Monday in Washington.

If Carpenter cannot play, the Capitals will be in sorry physical shape for Wednesday's opener of a best-of-five Stanley Cup playoff series against the same New York Islanders that have knocked them out the last three seasons.

Center Bengt Gustafsson is out for the season with a broken leg and right wing Mike Gartner has not yet begun to skate after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee March 28.

That was the same day Gustafsson was tripped by the Islanders' Denis Potvin and injured in a similar manner to the way Peter Zezel caught Carpenter with his knee as Carpenter crossed the Philadelphia blueline tonight. Zezel was assessed a penalty.

Whether a penalty against the Flyers is an asset or a liability is another question. They have the top penalty-killing unit in the NHL and that was a big factor tonight.

The Capitals not only did not get a shot with Zezel in the penalty box, Peeters had to make a fairly tough save on a shorthanded sortie by Dave Poulin, a harbinger of things to come.

When Scott Stevens went off for pulling down Murray Craven a few minutes later, the Flyers' power play quickly halved Washington's 2-0 lead.

Brad McCrimmon's shot from the right point was deflected by Rod Langway and wound up on Tim Kerr's stick at the left post. The puck was in the net before Peeters could react.

"The power play for us, when we did nothing, and the power play for them, when they scored so quickly, seemed to turn the whole thing around," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "Then their depth wore us down at the end.

"It is disappointing to play all year at a certain level and then for a game like tonight three of your top people can't play."

Two goals by Propp, 67 seconds apart early in the second period, sent Philadelphia ahead to stay.

The first came after Zezel centered the puck from behind the goal line and Propp, despite the close checking of Kevin Hatcher, swept the puck past Peeters.

Propp's second goal could have inspired a rout. With Ron Sutter off for high sticking, the Flyers stole the puck three straight times and sailed in for shorthanded chances.

Peeters stopped both Poulin and Propp individually, but when he had to face them together without assistance, the Flyers went ahead to stay.

McCrimmon threw the puck out of the Philadelphia end and it went off the boards and past Stevens, to be picked up by Poulin. Peeters played Poulin for a shot, but his last-second drop pass to Propp resulted in an easy empty-net goal.

"We didn't get the puck in and I was trying to get into the play and had nowhere to go," Stevens said. "They shot it off the boards and over my stick. I turned and tried to bat it out of the air, but that was all I could do."

Murray used his timeout at that instant and the Capitals, who could have fallen apart, regrouped instead and kept it close to the finish.

The only goal until the closing empty-net activity came off Kerr's stick at 33 seconds of the third period.

Kerr eluded Gaetan Duchesne in the left-wing circle and found a small opening under Peeters' right arm on the short side. It was Kerr's 58th goal.

Last season he had 12 in seven games against Washington. Until his pair tonight, Kerr had only one in six games with the Capitals this season.

It seemed to be a desperate move when Murray summoned Peeters to the bench with more than three minutes left.

But the Capitals kept their net inviolate for more than a minute and then some sharp passing by Duchesne and Bob Gould left Laughlin open for his second goal.

Peeters was warned by referee Kerry Fraser for knocking the net off behind him in the first period and an apparent goal by Mark Howe in the second was waved off because the net was moving when the puck reached it.

Many in the crowd of 17,211 were upset, no doubt remembering a penalty against Peeters for deliberately shoving it off the last time the Capitals were here.

"Every time it came off, people were running it off," Peeters said. "I'm no mechanical genius and I don't know how the magnets work, but something is sure wrong out there.

"They the Flyers were the league champions last year, they're still a great team and they beat us straight up.

"The effort was there and we played very well, but it came down to a couple of bounces and the goals in the first minutes of periods that put them in the driver's seat."