Mike Gartner's second goal of the game, after 20 seconds of sudden-death overtime, brought the Washington Capitals onto the ice in massive celebration of a 5-4 victory over the Calgary Flames yesterday.

It was one of those games that try fans' souls, and a Capital Centre sellout crowd of 18,130 figured to be sorely tried when Hakan Loob gave the Flames a 4-3 lead with 1:56 left in regulation.

Twenty-nine seconds later, Kevin Hatcher made a sensational move to put a one-hand shot on goal and Dale Hunter netted the rebound to tie it and bring hundreds of folks back from the exits.

With Calgary going for a quick ending in the five-minute extra period, Kelly Miller made a sudden dash out of the Washington end, leaving four Flames in arrears. Checked by Al MacInnis, the only defender, Miller shoved the puck ahead along the left-wing boards. Mike Ridley picked it up and relayed it to Gartner in front for the shot heard round the Patrick Division.

The victory over the National Hockey League's best team lifted the Capitals into undisputed possession of second place in the tightly packed Patrick, a mere two points behind pace-setting Philadelphia.

"It was an emotional roller coaster the way it seesawed at the end," Miller said. "We got a great emotional lift when Hunts got us back in it. Then to score again so quick made everybody feel just great."

"We were pretty excited about winning that hockey game," Gartner said. "When they scored late, it looked like it would be another of those one-goal games we've lost so many of. Then Dale Hunter got us even. It was a big win for us.

"There's not a lot of difference between winning and losing one-goal games -- just a couple of bounces -- but emotionally there's a tremendous difference."

It was the Flames' first defeat in their last five visits to the Centre and Coach Terry Crisp said, "We could have won it, but a couple of guys just fell asleep. You don't expect to get four guys caught down ice on the first shift and the Capitals capitalized on it -- pardon the pun."

After Washington's Michal Pivonka scored the only goal of the first period, the Flames got second-period goals by John Tonelli and Joe Nieuwendyk. Since Calgary had lost only two of 30 games in which it led after two periods, the Capitals' outlook was not bright.

However, Yvon Corriveau rebounded a shot by Greg Smith at 2:09 of the third period to tie it. Six minutes later, Gartner beat goalie Doug Dadswell with a 45-footer and the Capitals had a 3-2 lead.

Two strange goals put the Flames back on top. With 6:10 left in regulation, MacInnis fired a shot off the rear boards. The puck caromed out to Mike Bullard, who had fanned on two previous scoring chances. This time Bullard lifted a shot that struck the shoulder of goalie Pete Peeters and spun under the crossbar.

Only 1:56 remained when Hatcher deflected a shot by Gary Suter. The puck struck Nieuwendyk and popped into the air. Loob batted it down in the right-wing circle and drilled it past the screened Peeters.

In less favored times, that would have spelled defeat for the Capitals. But Hatcher found a reserve of strength as he fended off Dana Murzyn with his left hand and swooped in close enough to send a one-hand shot at Dadswell. The goalie blocked it, the puck rolled into the slot and Hunter whipped a backhander while Corriveau distracted the goaltender.

"I had to get it to the net," Hatcher said. "I tried to rush the puck and give us a little offense. I was holding his {Murzyn's} stick and I saw the traffic in front and I figured if I threw it in somebody might get the rebound. I was really mad after their last goal. I swiped at it and it went up in the air and we wound up getting caught flat-footed."

Gartner's winning goal was his 35th, a figure he has reached in all nine of his NHL seasons. It also marked the second straight time the Capitals had sent a sellout crowd home happy with an overtime victory, Miller's goal having beaten Philadelphia, 1-0, on Jan. 31. It also provided a welcome birthday present for General Manager David Poile, a Valentine baby who turned 39 yesterday.

"We deserved to win," Peeters said. "Justice was done to the Capitals, because we finally got one we should have. At times we've lacked confidence, but to come from behind this way tonight ought to be a good confidence-builder."

Nieuwendyk, who figures to be a shoo-in as rookie of the year, scored his 42nd goal and made a sensational play to set up Tonelli's 12th.

"It was disappointing," Nieuwendyk said. "We really worked hard tonight and we fought back hard. But that was a great pass {by Ridley}. Our defenseman pinched and their guy made a good pass."

Calgary 0 2 2 0 4 Washington 1 0 3 1 5

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Pivonka 7 (Christian, Gustafsson), 4:34. PENALTIES -- Suter, Cal (hooking), 6:13; Dadswell, Cal, served by Peplinski (delay of game), 7:46; Peplinski, Cal (cross-checking), 11:56; Gartner, Was (roughing), 13:41; Hunter, Cal (slashing), 16:38; Sundstrom, Was (high-sticking), 16:38; Gustafsson, Was (roughing), 19:16; Nattress, Cal (holding), 19:16; Hunter, Cal, double minor-misconduct-game misconduct (roughing), 19:16.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 2, Calgary, Tonelli 12 (Nieuwendyk, Hull), 11:25 (pp). 3, Calgary, Nieuwendyk 42 (Loob, Patterson), 17:18. PENALTIES -- Bullard, Cal (holding), 5:03; Ledyard, Was (holding), 8:01; Peplinski, Cal (roughing), 10:07; Franceschetti, Was (roughing), 10:07; Murphy, Was (holding), 10:20; Tonelli, Cal (roughing), 13:18; McCrimmon, Cal (cross-checking), 14:51; Stevens, Was (inteference), 14:51.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 4, Washington, Corriveau 6 (Smith, Gould), 2:09. 5, Washington, Gartner 34 (Ridley, Murphy), 8:03. 6, Calgary, Bullard 34 (MacInnis), 13:50. 7, Calgary, Loob 34 (Nieuwendyk, Suter), 18:04. 8, Washington, Hunter 7 (Hatcher, Gartner), 18:33. PENALTIES -- Otto, Cal (elbowing), 13:07; Ledyard, Was (high-sticking), 13:07; Patterson, Cal (roughing), 13:30; Franceschetti, Was (roughing), 13:30.

OVERTIME SCORING -- 9, Washington, Gartner 35 (Ridley, Miller), :20. PENALTIES -- None.

Shots on goal: Calgary 14 7 9 0 30 Washington 10 13 9 1 33

Power-play Opportunities -- Calgary 1 of 3; Washington 0 of 7.

Goalies -- Calgary, Dadswell (33 shots-28 saves). Washington, Peeters (30-26).

A -- 18,130.

Referee -- Ron Hoggarth. Linesmen -- Gord Broseker, Ryan Bozak.