A two-goal deficit in the third period intimidates a lot of hockey teams. For the Calgary Flames, it simply adds to the incentive.

The Flames scored four goals in the last 13 minutes and defeated the Washington Capitals, 5-4, last night at Capital Centre to extend their unbeaten streak to nine games, longest in the NHL this season.

The crowd of 10,912 had its chances to cheer, because Dave Christian recorded his first hat trick in five seasons as a Capital. Linemate Mike Ridley had a goal and two assists.

Washington carried a 2-1 lead into the third period and Christian's second goal, on a power play with 14:53 left, appeared to wrap things up. The Capitals do not often let a two-goal lead get away.

"We were up, 3-1, and that's the type of game we don't usually lose," Christian said. "But they come quick. They work hard, they go to the net and they forecheck well. They took it to us pretty good."

"When it was 3-1, we felt we were right in the game," said Mike Bullard, a two-goal scorer in the Flames' stretch drive. "We didn't expect to lose."

A slashing penalty to Kevin Hatcher provided Bullard with the opportunity to score the first of two power-play goals, neither of which traveled more than five feet.

With Larry Murphy caught up ice, the Flames swept in on a three-on-one, but goalie Clint Malarchuk blocked a shot by Al MacInnis. The puck struck the rear boards and caromed past both Malarchuk and defenseman Scott Stevens and into the crease, where Bullard tapped it home.

Joe Mullen tied it at 3 with 11:42 on the clock. He put a fake on Stevens and wound up from the faceoff dot in the right-wing circle, driving the puck between Malarchuk's legs.

The Capitals were presented with a golden chance to regain the lead when Jim Peplinski slashed Bengt Gustafsson while teammate Joel Otto already was off for holding. Looking at 52 seconds with a two-man advantage, Washington Coach Bryan Murray took his timeout to set things up. It did not work.

"The key to the game was killing off that five-on-three," said Calgary Coach Terry Crisp. "The guys were really irate on the bench that he {referee Ron Hoggarth} gave it to us. They didn't think we deserved it and they just decided to kill it off. They figured he couldn't do anything else to us."

Murray said, "We just got one shot, because there was no puck movement and when guys rotated, they weren't replaced by other guys, the way we worked it in practice. Time goes pretty quick when you turn it over twice and have to come back and reform."

Not long after the Flames returned to full strength, Mullen was tripped by Washington's Bill Houlder. It took Calgary only 27 seconds to move ahead for good. Malarchuk blocked a shot by Joe Nieuwendyk, but the puck dropped, skipped off Stevens' leg and once again wound up on Bullard's stick for a tapin.

"They were two empty nets, but you still have to put them in," Bullard said. "It's about time I got a couple of breaks. I've had some great chances without scoring."

Malarchuk was lifted for a sixth skater with 1:06 remaining and Carey Wilson quickly hit the empty net to give Calgary a 5-3 lead.

The scoring was not over. With 13 seconds left, Christian converted a feed from Ridley to complete his third NHL hat trick, the first two coming with Winnipeg. Christian has five goals in the last two games.

"Mike and I have talked about the way we've been scoring on the power play and we've been looking forward to scoring five on five, too," Christian said. "It's taken us a little bit, but we've had good chances in most of our games together. It was a matter of not getting a good enough shot or the goalie making a big save. It's nice that the puck's going in the net for a change."

The Capitals, once again a game under .500, will visit Hartford tonight. Murray does not think they will be down because of this defeat.

"As much as we lost the hockey game, we played a hell of a hockey game," Murray said. "Despite some individual mistakes that hurt us, we played well in the third period, too. It was a good effort and it's a real shame we didn't win the hockey game."

Crisp conceded that the Capitals had turned in the stronger effort for most of the game, but he was delighted to extend a string that has carried the Flames, who started 2-5, to the top of the Smythe Division, two points ahead of Edmonton. Calgary has lost only three of its last 21.

"Some games, we played great for 59 minutes and lost by doing goofy things," Crisp said. "The one tonight makes up for some we worked our tails off and lost. We lost some one-goal games early, but now we're winning the tight ones."