Owner Abe Pollin and club president Dick Patrick visited the dressing room and gave the Washington Capitals a vote of confidence before last night's Capital Centre game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Capitals rode the ensuing enthusiasm to a 4-2 victory that satisfied -- for a night at least -- the critics among a crowd of 13,323.

Dave Christian scored twice and Kelly Miller had a goal and two assists as Washington played aggressively from the opening faceoff.

The triumph was not without its price, however. Center Mike Ridley strained ligaments in his right knee from a second-period check by Rick Lanz. Ridley was on crutches afterward and, although he said he did not know the extent of the injury, he apparently will be out of action for some time.

The meeting with Pollin and Patrick was one of many since the team returned from Wednesday's 6-1 disaster in Detroit.

"We hope it's the last one," said Mike Gartner, the acting captain. "Mr. Pollin came down to the room with Dick Patrick and gave us a vote of confidence, told us there wouldn't be any changes, that we were a good enough team to win. It was a very positive meeting and it gave us a big boost."

Goaltender Pete Peeters, who earned an assist before he faced a shot, said, "Mr. Pollin told us he's been an owner for a long time and he's seen a lot of ups and downs. He told us to go get them, to be proud of our uniforms, to be proud of our fans and to play our best for the Capitals' organization and fans. It was very inspirational."

Despite building a 12-0 margin in shots over the first 14 1/2 minutes, the Capitals had only a 1-0 lead, on Miller's first goal since Nov. 14. Then the Maple Leafs tied it in the second period and it was not until Christian hit an empty net with 1:27 remaining that Washington was assured of victory.

"We had to struggle tonight to beat the Leafs even with our good intensity," said Coach Bryan Murray. "That's the way this team is. We're not going to get many blowouts. There have been a lot of nights where we worked very, very hard and came up short because we didn't finish around the net. At least tonight, when they tied it up, we came right back and scored a goal."

Mark Osborne put Toronto on the scoreboard on the Maple Leafs' eighth shot; at that point, 7:17 of the second period, the Capitals had fired 21 at Allan Bester.

For once, however, the Capitals got some good bounces. Christian's tie-breaking goal at 10:33 came after Miller, the target of Peter Sundstrom's pass, was pulled down by Al Iafrate. The puck caromed to Christian, who went in alone and whipped a backhander between Bester's pads.

"It was a lucky bounce, but we had so many chances, hitting posts and coming close," Sundstrom said. "We'll take it anyway and hope it gets things going. One game doesn't prove anything, but you have to start somewhere."

Scott Stevens made it 3-1 on another good bounce, while Washington was shorthanded because Peeters had flipped the puck over the glass. After Bengt Gustafsson missed the net on a two-on-one with Gartner, Gartner was able to keep the puck in the zone and feed Stevens in the left-wing circle. He hit the puck while it was on edge and sent it spinning past Bester.

"The puck was rolling and I wanted to get the shot off," Stevens said. "It was on edge when I hit it and it dropped like crazy. Then I looked at my stick and it had broken in half. I guess it was a lucky goal and maybe it's a sign that our luck is changing."

Tom Fergus reduced the deficit to 3-2 midway through the third period and the Maple Leafs applied some good pressure down the stretch. Peeters hung tough and his grab of a Russ Courtnall drive with 1:39 left can be termed a game saver.

Although they dominated play for most of the game, outshooting the Maple Leafs by 33-18, the Capitals had only a one-goal lead after Fergus scored with 9:33 left.

Earlier, Peeters earned an assist before he stopped a shot. He started the play that led to the only goal of the first period, Miller connecting at 8:06.

Over the first 20 minutes, the shot figures were 15-5 in favor of the Capitals. Besides that, Washington rattled at least two posts, Larry Murphy hitting one during a 65-second two-man advantage and Gustafsson another.

Ridley was banged up by Lanz on a play in which Miller was whistled for a holding penalty, giving Toronto its first power play. The Capitals killed that off without difficulty.

When Peeters dumped the puck over the glass, he drew his third penalty in a week. Instead of hurting the Capitals, however, it provided the impetus for another score.

Gustafsson missed the net on a shorthanded two-on-one with Gartner, but the hard-working Gartner kept the puck in the Toronto end and sent a backhand pass to Stevens at the top of the left-wing circle. The puck was on edge when Stevens connected and it spun past Bester at 17:40, for Washington's fourth shorthanded goal of the season.

The Maple Leafs managed only four shots in the first 10 minutes of the third period, but Fergus put No. 4 in the net to close the gap to 3-2.

Late in the game, Toronto Coach John Brophy elected to lift Bester for a sixth skater and Christian netted the clincher, his 16th of the season, 12 seconds later.

"Washington played hard tonight," Brophy said. "They played a close-checking game and did a good job killing their penalties. We only had about six good scoring chances the whole game."

The Capitals showed far more emotion than in recent starts. Greg Adams, playing in his 400th NHL game, was involved in two first-period fights, taking on both Todd Gill and Chris McRae.

"We needed to win," Adams said. "Emotion is the big thing we'd discussed over the last few days. Emotion was lacking and tonight we showed some."

Capitals Notes:

Center Mike Richard, a Washington farmhand playing for Binghamton, tied the American Hockey League record of a point in 28 consecutive games with a second-period goal last night against Newmarket, the Maple Leafs' farm club . . . Rod Langway received a loud cheer from the crowd when he walked across the ice to join Murray behind the Capitals' bench. He almost fell and said, "The guys were all over me about that. . . . It was enjoyable just to be with the guys, but I want to get back on the ice."

Sabres 2, Canadiens 2:

In Buffalo, Sabres goalie Jacques Cloutier, making his first start since mid-November, made several outstanding saves in the third period to preserve the tie with Adams Division-leading Montreal.

Red Wings 8, North Stars 3:

In Detroit, Bob Probert's power-play goal 3:09 into the final period broke a tie and started a five-goal third period for the winners.

The game featured a near-brawl in which Detroit Coach Jacques Demers had to be restrained on the Red Wings' bench when he tried to get at Minnesota Coach Herb Brooks.

Oilers 5, Jets 5:

In Edmonton, Jari Kurri's second goal of the game with 77 seconds remaining in the third period gave the Oilers the tie.