The New York Rangers may well win the Patrick Division this season, but the Washington Capitals reminded them Wednesday night it will not be without a fight.

The Capitals beat the NHL's overall leader, 6-3, for their fourth victory in their last five games.

"Certainly, the Rangers have a very good hockey club," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "They've been playing excellently at home lately. For us to go in there and win was great. We had played well against them before, but hadn't picked up a point."

The Capitals have won two in a row at Capital Centre and will try to extend that run tonight at 8 when the Montreal Canadiens make their only regular-season visit.

Left wing Dave Tippett won't play tonight or for the next week to 10 days. He suffered a slightly separated shoulder in the victory at Madison Square Garden. Team physician Stephen Haas examined Tippett yesterday.

"It's another blow," said Murray, who has several key players missing. "We'll miss him because he is a very responsible player and an important penalty killer."

Murray said he would not call up a player from Baltimore, at least until after tonight's game. The Capitals will play the Islanders in New York Saturday night. With Tippett out, the team has no extra forwards or defensemen.

Alan May moved to left wing on Mike Ridley's line (with Steve Leach) after Tippett departed from the game, and that combination will begin tonight's game.

That penalty-killing unit, which was ranked third in the league as of Wednesday morning, will face a Montreal team with the worst power play in the league. The preseason thought was that Denis Savard's arrival from Chicago might help that unit, but so far it has a firm grip on the 21st spot, as it did last season.

The Capitals' power play, meanwhile, continues to purr. Washington scored two power-play goals against the Rangers and had another goal shortly after a penalty expired.

"Their special teams are the best, and we spent a lot of time before the game going over them," Rangers Coach Roger Neilson said. "To win the game, we had to win the special-teams battle and we weren't able to do that."

Against the Rangers, Peter Bondra was the brightest of several stars. The rookie right wing scored three goals (his first NHL hat trick) and set up Leach for one.

"You have to get great performances from some people and then solid ones from others," Murray said. "{Goalie Mike} Liut came up with a strong game and Peter Bondra's three goals was obviously a top performance, though others played well, too."

Bondra has been playing with center Michal Pivonka and left wing Kelly Miller. Pivonka also had four points (a goal and three assists) against the Rangers, while Miller had two assists.

Mike Gartner's goal gave the Rangers a 1-0 lead, but Bondra scored twice to begin a six-goal binge by the Capitals. That total was the greatest allowed by the Rangers all season. The result snapped a 10-game unbeaten streak for the Rangers, who had lost only twice before at home.

While Bondra moved into second place among NHL rookie scorers (20 points), Pivonka continued to solidify a spot at center. He started the year at left wing, but moved back to the middle when Peter Zezel was hurt. Now this is the team's most potent line and, when Zezel returns, there will be an extra center.

"Michal really has responded to being back at center," Murray said. "He can handle the puck, be creative and it gives him a little more freedom to do things he wants. He and Bondra are playing well together. Michal feels like he's being helpful. He's passing on the experience that he's gained.

"Peter Zezel is probably two weeks away, but it's a nice problem to have. It pushes everybody to play better. But to get back to your question about what will happen when he does, I don't have an answer."