It was not surprising that Mike Gartner scored two goals for the Washington Capitals last night. It was the seventh time he has done it this season, and the second game in a row.

It was surprising that Michal Pivonka also scored twice, because Pivonka had managed a total of only three in 43 previous contests.

Throw in singles by Yvon Corriveau and Dave Christian and it was the same old story for the New Jersey Devils, who dropped a 6-4 decision and extended their winless streak at Capital Centre to 19 games.

The crowd of 12,501 was treated to more excitement than the usual Washington-New Jersey defensive struggle generates. This one even had a penalty shot, with New Jersey goalie Bob Sauve foiling Corriveau in the third period.

The Devils jumped ahead on a goal by John MacLean at the 48-second mark, after Claude Loiselle stole the puck from Washington's Greg Adams.

There have been nights when an early mistake would have put the Capitals in a down mood for the rest of the game. Before the first period ended, however, Gartner scored twice and Pivonka once for a 3-1 lead.

Pivonka extended it to 4-1 early in the second period and, although the Devils closed to 4-3 on a pair of goals by Pat Verbeek, they never caught up.

"The first goal is an important goal, but when we can bounce back and get right back into it in a few minutes, that's important, too," Gartner said. "We didn't have to wait until the second or third period and play catch-up hockey all night. That's when we get in trouble."

Gartner reached the 30-goal mark with his pair. He has scored at least 35 in his eight previous NHL seasons, although at the same stage a year ago he had only 14.

"They're coming at the right time, which makes me feel even better," Gartner said. "Every game in the Patrick Division is a big one, because a win or loss can put you in second or fifth place."

The triumph lifted the Capitals out of a third-place tie with New Jersey and into a second-place deadlock with the New York Islanders, three points behind Philadelphia.

Pivonka made a swift move to the net, behind defender Jack O'Callahan, to score his first goal. Kelly Miller crossed the blue line and hit Pivonka with a long pass. Pivonka held the puck until Sauve made a move, then poked it past him.

On his second goal, Pivonka muscled his way past defenseman Tom Kurvers to beat Sauve. Mike Ridley sent a pass ahead to Miller, who dropped the puck for Pivonka.

"Things are going very good with this line," Pivonka said. "Kelly and Mike are very good players and they both get the puck to me.

"It's good to score two goals, because nothing has been going too good for me. I was still getting chances and I told myself I had to keep going. Two goals doesn't mean everything will change, but it's a start."

Pivonka twice came close to a hat trick, but on one shot he shattered his stick and Sauve made a big save on another from close range.

"I hit the ice too much and my stick broke," Pivonka said. "Sure, I wanted a hat trick, but we won and that's the main thing. I had chances and couldn't put it in, but at least two went in."

Corriveau was credited with the game-winner, scoring off Gartner's setup late in the second period. But it was his penalty shot that created the biggest stir.

Corriveau was hooked down from behind by O'Callahan with 6:51 left in regulation time and referee Terry Gregson motioned to the spot at center ice.

After a pause for advice, Corriveau skated down the middle, dipped his shoulder to the left and tried to lift the puck over Sauve. The goalie moved out and got a piece of the shot with his stick, deflecting it wide.

"I had one before in junior and I scored with the same move," Corriveau said. "Tonight, I lost the puck. It hit a piece of ice and I had to put my head down to look again. That's when he came out on me.

"I was a little bit disappointed, but not everybody gets a penalty shot in the NHL. There was a lot of pressure, but I tried to put the crowd and everything out of my mind. I thought it was going good until I hit the spot in the ice."

Pete Peeters played his first complete game in the Washington goal since Dec. 23 and stopped 27 shots in what Coach Bryan Murray called "a really solid effort. There were a few he wasn't sure of, but that's from being out of the net."

Of the Devils' jinx here, in which they have managed just one tie since moving east from Colorado in 1982, Coach Doug Carpenter said, "We have to win here. We're in a dogfight and it could be a matter of making the playoffs."

Verbeek said, "There is no consolation in scoring two goals. The bottom line is winning. We gave it to them tonight. We just gave the puck away and they walked in free."

Penguins 6, Islanders 4:

In Uniondale, N.Y., Mario Lemieux scored on a penalty shot in the second period and assisted on two other goals to lead Pittsburgh to the victory.

Flames 7, Canucks 5:

In Calgary, Hakan Loob registered his second hat trick of the season and added an assist as the Flames moved into a tie with Edmonton for first place in the Smythe Division.

Oilers 4, Nordiques 4:

In Quebec, Kelly Buchberger scored his first NHL goal at 16:13 of the third period to lift Edmonton into the tie.

Whalers 6, North Stars 3:

In Bloomington, Minn., Paul MacDermid scored two goals to lead Hartford to the win.

Jets 3, Blues 0:

In Winnipeg, Andrew McBain scored a goal and had an assist and goalie Daniel Berthiaume stopped 23 shots to lead the Jets.

Kings 6, Rangers 3:

In Inglewood, Calif., Dave Taylor scored two goals and assisted on another, leading the Kings back from a three-goal deficit. Trailing, 3-0, the Kings scored four consecutive second-period goals.

Complete Team, Page D10 New Jersey 1 2 1 4 Washington 3 3 0 6

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, New Jersey, MacLean 8 (Loiselle), :48. 2, Washington, Gartner 29 (Stevens), 10:11. 3, Washington, Pivonka 4 (Miller, Stevens), 15:00. 4, Washington, Gartner 30 (Hunter, Murphy), 15:51 (pp). PENALTIES -- Shanahan, NJ (slashing), 7:02; Houlder, Was (slashing), 7:02; Daneyko, NJ, double minor (holding, unsportsmanlike conduct), 15:42.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Washington, Pivonka 5 (Miller, Ridley), 2:40. 6, New Jersey, Verbeek 27 (Muller, Broten), 5:32 (pp). 7, New Jersey, Verbeek 28 (Muller), 12:16. 8, Washington, Corriveau 4 (Gartner, Gustafsson), 17:07. 9, Washington, Christian 21 (Hunter), 18:54. PENALTIES -- Gartner, Was (hooking), 5:10; Shanahan, NJ (interference), 7:23; Sundstrom, NJ (roughing), 19:56; Miller, Was (roughing), 19:56.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 10, New Jersey, Muller 23 (Broten, Kurvers), 4:45. PENALTIES -- O'Callahan, NJ (holding), 1:49; Stevens, Was (hooking), 9:27; Loiselle, NJ (slashing), 12:14; Miller, Was (high-sticking), 12:14.

Shots on goal: New Jersey 8 8 15 31 Washington 10 10 11 31

Missed penalty shot -- Coriveau, Was 13:09 3rd.

Power-play Opportunities -- New Jersey 1 of 2; Washington 1 of 4.

Goalies -- New Jersey, Sauve (31 shots-25 saves). Washington, Peeters (31-27).

A -- 12,501.

Referee -- Terry Gregson. Linesmen -- Gord Broseker, Pat Dapuzzo.