Mike Ridley's rebound of Scott Stevens' shot with 4:37 remaining brought a winning touch to a somewhat embarrassing evening for the Washington Capitals last night as they defeated the U.S. Olympic team, 3-2, at Capital Centre.

Limited to 11 shots over two periods, the Capitals unloaded 14 in the third at Olympic goalie Mike Richter of Wisconsin, who once played for Philadelphia's Little Flyers. When Ridley broke through, it was almost a sense of relief for a Washington team that heard some very early season boos from the crowd of 11,336.

There were nothing but cheers, however, for Bengt Gustafsson, who made his first appearance in a Washington uniform since March 1986 and participated in all three scores. He and linemates Ridley and Dave Christian each netted a goal.

"It's great to have the fans behind you," Gustafsson said. "That's what you want to hear. I hope they're happy I'm back, because I'm very happy to be here. It's good to get a good start, because people expect a lot of me. It would be tough to get behind the 8-ball and have to work my way up.

"For us to play that well together after just two days practicing with each other says something. We should get a good flow going. I hadn't played for 2 1/2 weeks and it was tough in the second period. I struggled, but once I got my second wind I came back all right."

The entire team struggled through the second period, which might have been the Capitals' worst 20-minute stretch in a decade. They managed only three shots -- the third coming at the buzzer -- and were dreadful in four power-play chances.

Early in the period, which began with Washington nursing a 2-1 lead, Olympian Kevin Stevens of Boston College was penalized for holding. He complained so vehemently that referee Dan Marouelli tacked on an extra minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.

During Washington's four-minute power play, the only two shots were launched by the shorthanded Olympians. On just two occasions were the Capitals able to cross the Olympians' blue line under their own power.

Later, a penalty to Guy Gosselin of Minnesota-Duluth for hooking was followed by a delay penalty to goalie Richter, who flipped the puck over the glass. That put Washington two men up for 72 seconds, but the only shot was a long drive by Stevens. It came at 12:46 and was the Capitals' first of the period.

When the Olympians finally were awarded a power play, with Stevens penalized for kneeing, they pulled into a 2-2 tie on a short-side drive from the right-wing circle by Lane MacDonald of Harvard.

The score stayed that way through the first 15 minutes of the third period. Overlapping penalties to Lou Franceschetti and Garry Galley gave the Olympians a two-man advantage for 75 seconds and Stevens was without a stick much of that time. But he, Gustafsson and Rod Langway killed off the penalties and the Capitals were in control until Ridley finally won it.

The Olympians tested Washington goalie Pete Peeters only 17 times, a mere four in the third period. Except for Kevin Miller of Michigan State, the brother of Capital Kelly Miller, they seemed more anxious to pass than shoot.

Miller, by far the best of the Olympians, scored a first-period goal and Peeters made sensational saves with blocker and glove to stop him on two other occasions.

"I thought they played very well, but they had a lot of good chances to shoot at the net and they didn't take them," Peeters said. "If they had taken more shots, maybe the outcome would have been different.

"I couldn't believe that in some situations they didn't shoot. They'd have the defense backed in on top of me and they'd be looking for the pass. Maybe they want to play European style and they're preparing for the games on the big Olympic ice, but no matter where they play, if they don't shoot, they won't score."

One of Peeters' better saves came on Steve Leach's second-period deflection of a drive by Jeff Norton of Michigan. Leach is on loan from the Capitals and he probably was more disappointed than most by the Olympians' fourth straight one-goal loss against NHL opposition.

"It's pretty frustrating, because we've been playing so well," Leach said. "We're not finishing off. We're passing off rather than shooting -- it's been the case for the whole NHL tour. We're just trying to be too fine too early, that's what it boils down to."

The Capitals evened their exhibition record at 2-2-1, but besides showing some rough spots on offense, they were hit in the injury department, winger Greg Adams departing in the second period with a hyperextended right elbow. Adams checked defender Scott Young of Boston University, spun off him and banged the elbow on the boards.

"I hit the kid and bounced against the boards," said Adams, who will be checked out today. "Right away, I knew I'd hurt something. I haven't been injured a lot, so it was a funny feeling, but I knew that instant something was wrong."