Bob Gould's first goal of the season saved the Washington Capitals a lot of embarrassment last night. Gould scored with 2:53 left in regulation time to give the Capitals a 3-2 triumph over the Vancouver Canucks.

The Canucks have the NHL's poorest record (2-8-1) and the defeat extended their winless streak to seven games. But they wiped out an early two-goal deficit and seemed to be gaining momentum until Gould took it away.

The most red-faced of the Capitals was winger Greg Adams, the man whose overtime penalty cost a game Friday in Winnipeg.

Adams was in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct when Steve Tambellini brought Vancouver back into contention with a goal that sailed through the cords behind Washington goalie Pete Peeters. Later, Adams had been on the ice only three seconds after completing a sentence for hooking when a deflected 40-footer by Tony Tanti tied it.

"Thanks for saving me," Adams told Gould afterward.

Gould broke down the left wing, took a headman pass from Peter Sundstrom and cut toward the net. Defenseman Jim Benning appeared to expect an inside move, but Gould took an outside route and hit the far side of the net.

"It was a transition goal," said Gould, who missed the first eight games with a broken foot. "We caught them on an offensive move. I'd had a couple other chances, but this time I had more time to go across the net and I held onto the puck longer. I just got by him {Benning}. It happened so fast, I'm not sure how."

Two hours earlier, the Canucks were the ones who had to be wondering what was happening, the way the Capitals jumped them at the start. Vancouver still was without a shot when Craig Laughlin put Washington's seventh attempt behind goalie Kirk McLean on a power play at 7:14.

Before the first period ended, Mike Gartner snapped a seven-game pointless run with a sensational goal, carrying the puck from the left-wing boards right into the net. He steered it behind McLean when the goalie dove out unsuccessfully.

"I wanted to go across the crease, but he reacted too quickly, so I pulled back and put it behind him," Gartner said.

There were moments in the second period when the Capitals at even strength were dominating play to such an extent that they appeared to be on a power play. They could not pad their margin, however.

"Early in the season, we were getting four-five-six goals a game, but now we're plugging and working hard without finishing," said Coach Bryan Murray. "At least we got the two points."

There were some uneasy moments before that was confirmed. Adams' mouth got him in trouble late in the second period, when he complained to referee Bob Myers about Rich Sutter's constant badgering. Myers sent him to the box.

On the power play, Tambellini lined a shot from the left point that sailed over Peeters' left shoulder and through the net behind him. The red light did not come on and play continued for several seconds before linesman Pat Dapuzzo informed Myers of what had happened. Myers consulted goal judge Jim Wiseman before finally allowing the goal.

"I knew it was a goal, but play had to go on for five seconds and when you know it's in and nothing's happening, it's frustrating," Tambellini said. "You can't say, 'Time out, hold it.' I saw the net bulge, our bench saw it and, fortunately, the linesman saw it, too, and told Bob.

"I'm glad the linesman stuck to his guns. I lost one like that last year and once is enough."

Tambellini put a puck through the net in Vancouver in a game against Chicago. Nobody believed him that night, but a week later, Jim Sandlak fired a puck through the same hole from outside and a super-slow motion replay showed what had happened.

"Andy Van Hellemond was the ref that night and he told me the next time I saw him that it should have been a goal. That's not much consolation."

Playing the Capitals close wasn't much consolation for the Canucks last night, either. Tanti tied it with 8:44 left in regulation time and Vancouver could smell a victory, but once again it did not happen.

During their seven-game drought, the Canucks have played one tie and dropped four one-goal decisions, including a 3-2 defeat by the Capitals a week ago at Pacific Coliseum.

"It is frustrating to keep losing these one-goal games," said Coach Bob McCammon. "If it keeps up, we are going to have to get a psychologist for the players -- and the coach."

At least the Canucks had one small measure of success yesterday. A British Columbia court reduced the $310,000 fine assessed the team in the Pat Quinn tampering case to $10,000. Nordiques 4, Blues 3: In Quebec, Alan Haworth scored three goals, including the winner, to lead the Nordiques.

With the score tied, 2-2, Haworth gave Quebec the lead at 14:32 of the third period after he took a pass at the St. Louis blueline, went around defenseman Gaston Gingras and beat Greg Millen.

Haworth completed his hat trick less than three minutes later, scoring from the slot.