For the second straight game, the Washington Capitals took an early 2-0 lead and tried to make it stand up. Once again, they failed.

Ilkka Sinisalo's breakaway goal with 2:25 remaining in regulation time gave the Philadelphia Flyers a 3-2 victory last night before 18,130, the season's first sellout at Capital Centre.

Flyers defenseman Mark Howe lofted the puck down the ice over Washington defender Scott Stevens. Sinisalo batted it down, then skated in and beat goalie Clint Malarchuk, who had replaced ailing starter Pete Peeters after one period.

"Ilkka has a lot of speed and he likes to take off," Howe said. "I just tried to get it over the defenseman's head. The defenseman was stationary from the faceoff and Ilkka had a 20-foot head start, so once he got it, it was just a matter of putting it in."

The victory extended the Flyers' unbeaten streak to 14 games, longest in the NHL this season. It was the fifth straight game in which they had come from behind to win. Washington's modest four-game undefeated run was ended.

"All along we've been fighting back from one goal, two goals or three goals down," said Flyer Ron Sutter. "We keep coming. We were pumped up and we just felt there was no way we'd leave here without a win, even when we were two goals down. But that was as good a Capitals-Flyers game as you'll ever see."

Mike Gartner and Greg Adams gave the Capitals their two-goal advantage during the game's 26 minutes. Over the remainder of the game, Washington was outshot, 19-12, and the Flyers caught up on goals by Scott Mellanby and Murray Craven.

"We had a two-goal lead and we let it get away," Gartner said. "We let them take the play to us and they took advantage of our retreat hockey."

Asked whether the Capitals should have learned their lesson Wednesday, when they were tied by Montreal after taking a 2-0 lead, Gartner replied, "We should have learned that lesson five years ago."

The game, hotly contested all the way, ended in a brawl involving eight players from each team. Depending on which dressing room was queried, it originated with Flyer Kjell Samuelsson's cheap-shot run at Dave Christian after the buzzer or Capital Bengt Gustafsson's spear of Pelle Eklund a minute earlier.

There usually is an extra injection of emotion in Flyers-Capitals meetings and this time it was furnished to the Capitals by the return of captain Rod Langway, six days earlier than expected. Langway, who was sidelined by a ruptured disk in his back Nov. 25, saw spot duty after missing 14 games.

"The doctor had indicated that Rod could play fairly soon and today he indicated to Rod that if he wanted to play tonight he could," said Coach Bryan Murray. "It was a fairly emotional thing for the team and from Rod's point of view, it was good to get in some game time."

The Capitals received another early lift when Peeters made a big stop on Sutter at the game's 12-second mark. Gartner then took Dale Hunter's feed and beat Flyers goalie Ron Hextall at 1:14 with a short-side blast from the faceoff spot in the left-wing circle.

The Capitals had a chance to add to their margin when, with Howe already in the penalty box, Hextall slashed Hunter. With a two-man advantage for 64 seconds, however, Washington's power play never tested Hextall.

"We didn't make a play at all, not to get set up even," Murray said.

Both Larry Murphy and Gustafsson were unable to handle Gartner's passes in good scoring position. Then Peeters, in making a sensational glove save on Rick Tocchet, felt a muscle pull in the groin area. He finished the period, then removed himself from the contest.

"I stayed in seven or eight minutes, but I was in positions where I was having trouble getting up," Peeters said. "I didn't want to be in a position where I couldn't get up and they'd get an easy goal."

Malarchuk was not put in the best situation, since he had not played for 10 days and had not even practiced Thursday or Friday. But he made two superb stops on Tocchet early in the second period and quickly got into the game.

"With no warmup and a cold goaltender, they tried to test me early and put the pressure on a bit," Malarchuk said. "But with a couple of saves, feeling the puck early, I felt really good."

The Capitals felt much better after Adams scored a spectacular goal. He carried the puck across the Flyers' blue line, waited till Garry Galley broke for the net and tried to pass the puck past Howe to Galley. It struck Howe in the elbow instead, dropping behind him. Adams raced in, scooped it up and put a deke on Hextall before sliding the puck into the net.

"You can't have as much fun describing it when you've lost," Adams said. "It was a frustrating game."

The frustration began building when Mellanby converted Peter Zezel's pass from behind the net to make it 2-1.

Then, 10 seconds after Craven missed the net after a pass from Howe, Gartner blocked a shot by Howe and the puck landed at Craven's feet. He wound up and his shot struck Washington defender Greg Smith in the skate before caroming past Malarchuk and tying the score.

Philadelphia 0 1 2 3 Washington 1 1 0 2

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Gartner 21 (Hunter, Franceschetti), 1:14. PENALTIES -- Hatcher, Was (cross-checking), 2:33; Roupe, Phi (hooking), 6:21; Howe, Phi (tripping), 9:29; Hextall, Phi, served by Craven (slashing), 10:25; Brown, Phi, major (fighting), 14:35; Kastelic, Was, major (fighting), 14:35; Galley, Was (interference), 14:35.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 2, Washington, Adams 7 (Laughlin), 5:35. 3, Philadelphia, Mellanby 13 (Zezel, Marsh), 11:42. PENALTIES -- Langway, Was (cross-checking), 7:52; Smyth, Phi, minor-major (instigator, fighting), 11:42; Hatcher, Was, minor-major (slashing, fighting), 11:42; Francescetti, Was (hooking), 13:17.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 4, Philadelphia, Craven 12 (Howe, Mellanby), 5:11. 5, Philadelphia, Sinisalo 12 (Howe, Samuelsson), 17:35. PENALTIES -- Samuelsson, Phi (cross-checking), 20:00; Gartner, Was (slashing), 20:00.

Shots on goal: Philadelphia 9 12 10 31 Washington 15 10 6 31

Power-play Opportunities: Philadelphia, 0 of 4; Washington, 0 of 3.

Goalies: Philadelphia, Hextall (31 shots-29 saves). Washington, Peeters (9-9), Malarchuk (0:00 2nd, 22-19).

A -- 18,130.

Referee -- Bill McCreary. Linesmen -- Gord Broseker, Mark Vines.