PHILADELPHIA, JAN. 5 -- The Washington Capitals knocked the Philadelphia Flyers off balance with relentless forechecking tonight and ground out a 3-1 victory that extends their unbeaten streak to five games.

Dave Christian, Mike Gartner and Mike Ridley scored the goals that lifted Washington to a 3-0 lead after 25 minutes and a strong defensive effort, anchored by Scott Stevens, made it stand up.

Goaltender Clint Malarchuk, tested only five times in the first 35 minutes, stopped 19 shots the rest of the way as Philadelphia, spurred by the boos of the 17,423 fans, tried in vain to recoup.

"They must have caught it between periods, because they came at us pretty good in the third period," Malarchuk said. "But we played a darned good hockey game tonight."

Mark Howe's goal at 8:51 of the second period snapped Malarchuk's shutout streak, which had reached 106 minutes 21 seconds. He has played every game of the Capitals' hot stretch that began following a 3-2 loss to the Flyers at Capital Centre Dec. 26.

This was the second success in two Spectrum starts this season for the Capitals, winless here in 10 tries over the last three campaigns. The triumph lifted Washington into a second-place tie with Philadelphia in the Patrick Division, one point behind the New York Islanders.

"Winning here twice has to be good for us," Gartner said. "It's a hurdle we've gotten over now. We've proven it wasn't a fluke the first time. They're a good hockey team and they play well here, so beating them twice has to be a good confidence booster. It will be important the rest of the year and probably in the playoffs, too."

The Flyers like to jump on visiting teams and put them down early. Tonight, however, the Capitals were ahead before Philadelphia put a shot on goal.

After the expiration of an interference penalty to Flyers rookie Kerry Huffman, the Capitals kept the puck in the Philadelphia end. Larry Murphy stopped an attempted clear at the right point and batted the puck to Craig Laughlin, who relayed it to Christian in the high slot. He put his 18th goal past Ron Hextall, a low shot that struck the post at Hextall's left and caromed in at 3:20.

"In the past, we've been in the position of trying to come from behind here and we haven't had a lot of success," Christian said. "Tonight, we played well early and got on top of them. They got it going late in the second period and got some chances in the third, but Clint made some big saves."

Gartner's 24th goal made it 2-0 at 8:56. Kevin Hatcher banged the puck off the side boards and it caromed past Huffman. Gartner raced in at the same time that Hextall charged out of the net and they converged in the right wing circle. Gartner hit the puck first, right into the vacated net.

"I started to break around Huffman and I saw Hextall coming out," Gartner said. "I reached out and one-handed it and I chopped it right over his stick."

Overlapping penalties to Doug Crossman and Kjell Samuelsson gave Washington a two-man advantage, but it almost backfired against the Flyers' aggressive penalty killers. Peter Zezel blocked a shot by Stevens and started in on a breakaway, but Stevens hauled him down. While the Flyers sought a penalty shot, referee Bill McCreary decreed only a minor penalty.

"That was no penalty shot," Stevens said. "He was skating with one hand on the stick and he wasn't even in control of the puck. I just lifted his arm up, with no pressure at all, and I think he just dove."

Zezel said: "We expected a penalty shot. I was a couple of steps ahead of him when he pulled me down." Asked if he had control, Zezel replied, "No, it was a little bit ahead of me, but I would have caught up with it in another stride."

The Capitals were so dominant early in the second period that the crowd was booing the Flyers for their inability to get the puck out of their end. The pressure paid off in Ridley's 14th goal at 4:45, once again before Philadelphia had put a shot on goal.

Bill Houlder kept the puck in and earned his first NHL point when his pass touched two Flyers before ending up on Michal Pivonka's stick in the left wing circle. Pivonka's shot struck the skate of Ridley, battling two Flyers in front of the net, and slid past Hextall.

"I was tired at the time, because I was really in the middle of the next shift, but I saw the puck going to Pivo, so I went for the net," Ridley said.

Ridley was returning after an eight-game absence because of a strained knee ligament suffered against Toronto Dec. 18. If he needed any proof that the knee is sound, the Flyers provided it.

Down, 3-0, the Flyers did not quit. They had wiped out a 2-0 deficit at Capital Centre to win and they had thoughts of a repeat.

Their hopes got a big lift when Howe carried the puck over the Washington blue line and unloaded a rising shot from the left wing circle that struck Malarchuk at waist level and rolled past into the net.

Washington 2 1 0 3 Philadelphia 0 1 0 1

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Christian 18 (Laughlin, Murphy), 3:20. 2, Washington, Gartner 24 (Hatcher), 8:56. PENALTIES -- Huffman, Phi (interference), 1:10; Ridley, Was (roughing), 2:27; Hunter, Was (high-sticking), 2:27; Smith, Phi (roughing), 2:27; Marsh, Phi (roughing), 2:27; Christian, Was (hooking), 9:27; Hunter, Was (roughing), 9:27; Zezel, Phi (roughing), 9:27; Crossman, Phi (hooking), 11:25; Samuelsson, Phi (tripping), 12:55; Stevens, Was (hooking), 13:31; Roupe, Phi (interference), 16:17; Tocchet, Phi (high-sticking), 17:08; Adams, Was (slashing), 17:08.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 3, Washington, Ridley 14 (Pivonka, Houlder), 4:45.4, Philadelphia, Howe 7, 8:51. PENALTIES -- Brown, Phi (cross-checking), 5:39; Tocchet, Phi (interference), 7:39; Stevens, Was (tripping), 8:15; Laughlin, Was (hooking), 14:35.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- None. PENALTIES -- Gould, Was (tripping), 5:22; Samuelsson, Phi (hooking), 5:52; Smyth, Phi (high-sticking), 7:59; Hatcher, Was (slashing), 9:40; Huffman, Phi (tripping), 12:47; Langway, Was (holding), 16:40.

Shots on goal:

Washington 11 8 9 28 Philadelphia 4 7 13 24

Power-play opportunities -- Washington 0 of 8; Philadelphia 0 of 7.

Goalies -- Washington, Malarchuk (24 shots-23 saves). Philadelphia, Hextall (28-25).

A -- 17,423.

Referee -- Bill McCreary. Linesmen -- Wayne Bonney, Kevin Collins.