It was power-play day at Capital Centre yesterday, with the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins skating less than half the game at full strength. That is the kind of situation made for Larry Murphy.

The Capitals' all-star defenseman, benched Monday for indifferent play, enjoyed one of the finest games of his career in leading Washington to a 5-3 victory, a .500 record and within two points of first place in the Patrick Division.

A sellout crowd of 18,130 saw Murphy collect one goal and set up three. He was on the ice for all five Washington goals, none by Pittsburgh.

"Personally, I'm pleased, because it's not too often you get four points," Murphy said. "We had a lot of power plays and that gave me the opportunity to handle the puck. It helps me offensively to be in so many extra-man situations. But the big thing is that we beat another division team and we're right back in the race."

The Capitals had 13 power plays, the Penguins seven. Washington scored three goals with the extra man, Pittsburgh two. The Penguins, who were limited to 15 shots, produced their other goal on a shorthanded rush by Dave Hunter.

Referee Mike Noeth, assigned at the last minute because Andy Van Hellemond developed a sore hip, whistled 29 penalties, 17 against Pittsburgh, and the Penguins' Charlie Simmer found himself serving three unsportsmanlike conduct minors, only one of which he earned by personal criticism of Noeth.

"We were upset by some of his calls, but once the call is made, it's up to us to live with it," Simmer said. "I was just relieving a little frustration and I've heard worse yelled at referees with nothing happening. It was just a frustrating situation. There wasn't a good flow to the game and a lot of the infractions were away from the play."

The Penguins could have gained a share of first place with a victory, which made Coach Pierre Creamer even angrier about what transpired. Creamer, who was hit with one of the unsportsmanlike minors, refused to talk to the media afterward, shouting, "Go talk to the ref. He'll tell you everything about the game."

Pittsburgh center Mario Lemieux undoubtedly was the most frustrated player on the ice. He was assessed 16 minutes in penalties and watched the last 12:03 from the penalty box after receiving a hooking minor, an unsportsmanlike minor and a 10-minute misconduct.

"I just said the usual stuff," said Lemieux, who earned two assists, but did not put a shot on goal. "I guess he was upset because he wasn't having a good game and he was trying to blame it on us. There were a lot of penalties that weren't penalties and it was hard to get any momentum going. Last year, he {Noeth} cost us a couple of games. He's not ready for the NHL."

Of the first 25 minutes, only 9:18 was played at full strength. For the game, the five-on-five play lasted only 28:41.

Pittsburgh was two men short when Dale Hunter sent the Capitals in front. Randy Cunneyworth converted a Lemieux setup for his 23rd goal -- he has 11 of his 66 career scores against Washington -- to tie it and then it was Murphy time.

Dave Christian broke free near the left post and Murphy's rinkwide pass was perfect, as Christian escaped the close checking of Troy Loney to net his 17th goal.

"Larry took the right side and I took the left side," Christian said. "I went to the net, Larry saw me and put it right on my stick. We want to get better on the rushes we've been getting, so we've been holding the puck more instead of just dumping it in."

Doug Bodger, who later banged up his already suspect left knee, pulled Pittsburgh even before Mike Gartner's 23rd goal, on a carbon copy of Murphy's feed to Christian, sent Washington ahead to stay.

"Both plays just developed that way," Murphy said. "Both guys were on the other side of the ice and, since the goaltender had to play me, they were wide open."

Murphy netted the only goal of the second period, fighting off Jim Johnson's check in the right-wing circle and whipping a backhander off the far post and into the net.

Dave Hunter's shorthanded goal early in the third period made it closer than it should have been. But less than two minutes later, Murphy set up Greg Adams' clincher.

Challenged by Johnson and slashed by Lemieux, Murphy sent the puck ahead to Adams, who was left alone in front and directed a backhander past Gilles Meloche, the goaltender who has beaten Washington more times (25) than anyone else.

Although there was no further scoring, things got worse for the Penguins. Johnson, the man who carved up Bengt Gustafsson's face the last time Pittsburgh was here, was checked by Kelly Miller and crumpled to the ice, suffering strained ligaments in his right knee. As Johnson fell, his stick caught Washington's Bob Gould above the right eye, inflicting a pair of five-stitch cuts.

Although Miller and Gould insisted Miller's hit was a legitimate hip check, Johnson said, "I had Kelly Miller beat and he stuck his foot out to trip me. There wasn't any penalty, either, even though he {Noeth} calls all the little things. That's the worst refereeing I've ever seen."

Bodger reinjured his knee checking Gartner, then 6-foot-4 Wayne Van Dorp challenged Washington's Kevin Hatcher to a fight and stood up long enough to regret it.

Pittsburgh 2 0 1 3 Washington 3 1 1 5

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Hunter 14 (Gustafsson, Stevens), 8:11 (pp). 2, Pittsburgh, Cunneyworth 23 (Lemieux, Callander), 11:19 (pp). 3, Washington, Christian 17 (Murphy, Hunter), 12:08. 4, Pittsburgh, Bodger 6 (Lemieux, Callander), 14:36 (pp). 5, Washington, Gartner 23 (Murphy, Stevens), 17:26 (pp). PENALTIES -- Corriveau, Was (holding), 1:01; Dahlquist, Pit (holding), 3:45; Galley, Was (holding), 5:55; Callander, Pit (holding), 6:37; Buskas, Pit (tripping), 7:30; Corriveau, Was (interference), 10:34; Laughlin, Was (interference), 13:38; Bodger, Pit (cross-checking), 16:29; Gould, Was (interference), 18:59.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 6, Washington, Murphy 5 (Gartner, Stevens), 14:46 (pp). PENALTIES -- Bourque, Pit (hooking), :24; Miller, Was (hooking), 2:51; Simmer, Pit, double minor (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 10:15; Dahlquist, Pit (cross-checking), 14:12; Hatcher, Was (tripping), 16:55; Lemieux, Pit (holding), 16:58; Pittsburgh bench, served by Simmer (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:58.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 7, Pittsburgh, Hunter 9 (Johnson, Buskas), 2:30 (sh). 8, Washington, Adams 8 (Murphy, Sundstrom), 4:18. PENALTIES -- Looney, Pit (tripping), 2:12; Lemieux, Pit, double minor-misconduct (unsportsmanlike conduct, hooking), 7:57; Adams, Was (interference), 11:00; Houlder, Was (interference), 13:49; Paiement, Pit (high-sticking), 16:48; Van Dorp, P -- it, major-misconduct (fighting), 16:48; Adams, Was (high-sticking), 16:48; Hatcher, Was, major-misconduct (fighting), 16:48.

Shots on goal: Pittsburgh 6 4 5 15 Washington 17 11 9 37

Power-play Opportunities -- Pittsburgh 2 of 7; Washington 3 of 13.

Goalies -- Pittsburgh, Meloche (37 shots-32 saves). Washington, Malarchuk (15-12).

A -- 18,130.

Referee -- Mike Noeth. Linesmen -- Pat Dapuzzo, Dan McCourt.