Trailing, 2-0, after 38 minutes, the Washington Capitals turned their newly honed offense up to full power last night and routed the Quebec Nordiques, 6-2.

Mike Ridley collected two goals and an assist to lead a surge that saw Washington score on five of its first six shots in the third period.

The triumph, the Capitals' fourth in a row and 10th in 11 games, lifted them within one point of Patrick Division-leader Philadelphia, which was beaten, 7-4, in Edmonton.

A Capital Centre crowd of 16,912, after expressing its displeasure with the Capitals' slow start, wound up cheering almost nonstop down the stretch. But the comeback would not have been possible if goalie Clint Malarchuk, who finished with 26 saves, had not kept the Capitals close during their extended dry spell.

"I didn't feel very good after two periods," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We have to thank Clint Malarchuk for keeping us in the game. We got caught up in ourselves a little early and got away from the no-frills game we've been playing so successfully on the road."

Once the Capitals got on the scoreboard, they went for the jugular, producing two power-play goals, one shorthanded and three at equal strength. Besides Ridley, the goal scorers were Scott Stevens, Mike Gartner, Kelly Miller and Grant Ledyard.

After Ridley and Stevens connected on the first two shots of the third period to put the Capitals ahead for the first time, Quebec Coach Ron Lapointe called time in a vain attempt to avert the oncoming deluge.

"It was just a waste of 30 seconds," said Lapointe, a Washington assistant the past two seasons. "We got deflated. This is a young team and we played a great two periods, but when they scored right at the start of the third period, you could sense it on the bench.

"Our confidence fell off and once they got a couple and got the fans off their backs, they had all the confidence in the world. They were crowding the net and Goose {Gosselin} had trouble seeing through their screens."

If the fans were excited about each Washington goal, they had one more reason to yell -- and made the most of it -- in the closing minutes as the scoreboard showed Edmonton on the way to victory over Philadelphia.

For Ridley, this was one more superb game in a remarkable stretch since the All-Star break. Over the last 11 games, he has collected seven goals and nine assists while posting a plus-13 rating.

He put Washington on the scoreboard with a power-play deflection of a Stevens shot with 1:53 left in the second period, then converted a Gartner setup at 1:27 of the third after Miller had been bumped into Gosselin. Suddenly, a listless Washington team was flying.

"Quebec bottled us up the first two periods, playing a 1-2-2," Ridley said. "I don't think anybody was happy the way we came out. We played great in the divisional games against New Jersey and the Islanders, but we've been down for some of the others and with Quebec we kind of half took the night off.

"It was good to see the way we came out in the third period, skating so well. It was the same for our line as for the team. We weren't talking, weren't skating, weren't communicating. But after we got that goal in the third period, there was a lot of talking."

The goals and the chatter continued virtually nonstop. Stevens sent the Capitals ahead to stay at 2:29 with a 35-footer from the slot over Gosselin's left shoulder.

With Jeff Jackson off for interference, Gartner made it three goals in three shots by converting Ridley's goal-mouth feed at 6:27. With a three-point game, Gartner extended to 11 games his streak with at least one point. Gosselin finally managed to stop a shot before Miller and Ledyard padded the lead.

Miller's shorthanded goal was a classic, one that ought to make a lot of highlight films. Behind the play, Gartner was tripped by Michel Goulet, who earlier produced his 37th goal with the Capitals two men short. Gartner responded by tripping Goulet. Since this byplay was out of referee Dan Marouelli's view, play continued and Miller carried the puck up the left wing.

Miller fed Greg Smith at the right post and Smith's shot slid behind the flopping Gosselin into the left-wing circle. By this time, Miller had crossed the goal line, but he reversed himself and came out unopposed to pick up the puck.

Miller fired toward the empty net and Goulet dove and blocked it. But the puck bounced back onto Miller's stick and, with Gosselin still out of sight, Miller hit the twines.

Ledyard netted his third goal, beating Gosselin with a short-side drive from the right-wing circle to complete the scoring.

Oilers 7, Flyers 4:

In Edmonton, Glenn Anderson's four goals and Wayne Gretzky's five assists overwhelmed the Flyers, who because of injuries lacked eight regulars.

Gretzky, who broke Gordie Howe's NHL career assist record Tuesday, put on a playmaking exhibition in the first period when he set up four power play goals.