QUEBEC CITY, DEC. 22 -- Dale Hunter came back to Quebec tonight for the first time since the June trade and was greeted like a returning hero. Signs noted a common theme -- "We miss you" -- and loud applause marked his first shift.

By night's end, however, the folks at Le Colisee were wishing Hunter had stayed away. First, he cross-checked goalie Mario Gosselin, just to let everybody know he no longer was loyal to the fleur-de-lis. Then, he assisted on two third-period goals by Mike Gartner that enabled the Washington Capitals to rally for a dramatic 2-1 victory over the Nordiques.

"I had a few butterflies and I didn't enjoy it too much," Hunter said. "I played here quite a few years and I was glad to get it over with. Those guys protected me for years when I was down and out. But it was good to win and it was nice to know the fans still remembered me."

It was a doubly satisfying triumph for embattled Coach Bryan Murray, unbeaten in three games since General Manager David Poile issued his "reevaluation" ultimatum to the team. Murray worked hard all night to gain favorable player matchups and earned the decision over Ron Lapointe, the new Quebec coach who left Washington during the summer under somewhat unpleasant circumstances following two seasons as a Murray assistant.

"It makes me feel tremendous, the way we've been going, to come in here and win," Murray said. "Anytime we come in here and win, it's a good win. We {he and Lapointe} have talked a good deal over the last two years and I knew what he'd probably do on the ice. We did a lot of changing on the fly and we got the matchups we wanted all night."

Goaltender Pete Peeters turned in his third straight superb performance, blocking 24 shots and lowering his league-leading goals-against average to 2.33.

Peeters made some outstanding saves, including on two breakaways by Peter Stastny, to keep the Capitals within range going into the third period. The only score to that point was a rebound by Quebec's Gord Donnelly early in the second period.

Washington had a power-play opportunity early in the third period, when Lou Franceschetti wisely turtled after taking a punch from Steven Finn. Sixteen seconds later, the teams were even, Gartner going off for hooking Paul Gillis.

As Gartner left the penalty box, the Capitals struck. Hunter won a faceoff from Peter Stastny with two seconds left on Gartner's sentence and Garry Galley flipped the puck down the ice, right toward Quebec defenseman Robert Picard. The puck skidded through Picard, Gartner picked it up and found himself on a two-on-one with Franceschetti against Randy Moller.

Not even bothering to fake a pass, Gartner unloaded from the top of the right-wing circle and drilled the puck between the pads of goalie Mario Gosselin to tie it.

"I came out of the penalty box and I knew it was a two-on-one when I got the puck," Gartner said. "The defenseman was playing Louie and I said, 'Shoot the puck.' Usually, I go farther in, but tonight it just seemed like the time to shoot and it worked."

"I knew he was coming out, but I didn't know if he'd be out in time to get a pass, so I tried to lift it," Galley said. "There wasn't enough on it and it went right to Picard, but somehow it went through his glove and between his legs. That was the kind of break we haven't been getting."

Picard said, "I tried to grab it, but it bounced right through my legs. We missed so many scoring chances early and we didn't score on a five-on-three. When you do that, teams always seem to come back on you."

Gartner's tying goal came at 3:34 and at 6:41 he netted the winner, his 20th of the season.

This time, Hunter carried the puck across the Quebec blue line, then moved toward the boards while Picard checked him. Gartner slipped behind Picard, took Hunter's pass and skated in on a breakaway. When Gosselin came out, Gartner shifted the puck to his backhand and slid it into the vacated net.

"The defenseman rushed at Dale and I saw Gosselin starting to come out," Gartner said. "That was an easy one. I just moved it to my backhand and shoved it in."

The Capitals did a superb job of shutting down the Nordiques the rest of the way. Quebec's only quality scoring chance of the last 13 minutes came with 3:55 left, when Michel Goulet took a pass that caromed off the side boards behind defenseman Kevin Hatcher and skated in alone. Goulet shot wide, so maybe the Capitals have transferred one of their worst habits.

Asked whether the Capitals wanted to win this one for Hunter or Murray, Gartner replied, "Let's just say we wanted to win it for the Washington Capitals. Dale was a little bit nervous before the game and we kind of left him alone. We'll probably kid him more now.

"We knew the coaches would be playing games out there. Ron had the last change, so we knew there'd be a lot of changing out there, position to position and line to line. It may have mixed them up more than it did us."

Flyers 6, Rangers 4:

Rick Tocchet scored two goals, the first one starting a three-goal first-period burst, to lead Philadelphia in New York.

The victory extended the Flyers' unbeaten streak to 12 games (10-0-2), while the Rangers, who scored three power-play goals, lost their third straight. The victory moved Philadelphia into second place in the Patrick Division, one point ahead of idle New Jersey.

John Ogrodnick gave the Rangers a two-goal lead with scores at 3:41 and 6:57 of the first period. The second goal was on a power play.

Bruins 9, Sabres 0:

Cam Neely scored the first of five Boston goals in the second period and the Bruins went on to trounce the host team.

Jets 5, Islanders 2:

In Winnipeg, Andrew McBain and Gilles Hamel each scored twice and Dave Ellett had three assists as the Jets beat New York.