Dino Ciccarelli's mother and father sat in the stands at Capital Centre last night, suffering through the boos with their son as the lowly Vancouver Canucks built a two-goal lead during the first 45 minutes.

Then Ciccarelli energized his teammates and the suddenly happy crowd of 11,491 with his 400th National Hockey League goal. It was a new game and, by the time it ended, the Washington Capitals had battled back for a 5-3 victory.

It was a night that saw the Capitals record two shorthanded goals and their first power-play score in 40 opportunities. It also was a night when Reggie Savage made a capable debut in the NHL, when Soviet Dimitri Khristich dealt some North American-style checks and when Nick Kypreos and John Kordic scored one-sided fistic victories.

Still, it looked like another losing night, with Vancouver ahead by 3-1, until Ciccarelli turned things around by scooping up Kevin Hatcher's deflected shot and whipping it past goalie Kirk McLean at 5:05 of the third period.

"I'm proud to get 400 and even more to do it with my mum and dad here," said Ciccarelli, who became the 38th player to reach 400. "My dad has always been my biggest supporter. It's a big accomplishment, but it means a lot more not only because we won, but the way we came back."

Not long after Ciccarelli made it 3-2, Kypreos was penalized for high-sticking Steve Bozek. But Al Iafrate and Kelly Miller turned the situation into the Capitals' second shorthanded goal of the game and a 3-3 tie.

Iafrate lifted the puck from Trevor Linden at the Washington blueline and passed ahead to Miller, who dropped the puck back and ran interference on defenseman Doug Lidster in the right wing circle. Iafrate took his time and fired a shot off the far post, barely an inch over McLean's right skate.

"There wasn't much room," Iafrate said. "I just wanted to make sure I hit the net, so the puck wouldn't go wide and come around the boards. I was fairly far out and I'm fast enough to get back. That's why they got me here. They needed a little more offense from the defensemen."

Another offensive-minded defenseman, Calle Johansson, was at the point on the power play after Vancouver's Gerald Diduck hooked Michal Pivonka to prevent a breakaway. When Johansson unloaded, the puck struck Dale Hunter and hopped over McLean's stick for Hunter's second winning goal in three games.

The power-play goal was a rare item, the third in the last 10 games. Over that stretch, the Capitals have scored five times while shorthanded.

"It just deflected in. It was kind of a lucky play," said McLean. "But we knew they would come out in the third period. We had enough goals to win and should have concentrated more in our own end."

Mike Ridley's empty-net score with 13 seconds left wrapped it up and enabled Washington to remain three points behind New Jersey in the fight for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Patrick Division.

"When you're down two goals to a team like Vancouver, it's easy to quit," Ciccarelli said. "But the players on this team have been through some tough times and nobody's quit yet."

Vancouver's Jay Mazur scored the only goal of the first period, which featured Kypreos's pounding of Ronnie Stern -- who obviously can't hit southpaws -- and Kordic's knockdown of Gino Odjick, with both counted out of the game by referee Paul Devorski.

A shorthanded goal by Mikhail Tatarinov pulled Washington even in the second period, but Greg Adams gave the Canucks a 2-1 lead on a power-play goal with Dave Tippett in the box for slashing.

After Adams scored with 5:51 left, Washington Coach Terry Murray took a timeout to regroup. Then, just before the buzzer, Ciccarelli flattened Adrien Plevsic behind the Vancouver net.

"The big hit Dino had at the end of the second period was a big factor in turning things around," Murray said. "The players talked about it in the room and I talked about it. As a result, everybody came out in the third period with a lot of energy."

Rookie Petr Nedved diluted the energy somewhat by racing down the slot and converting Linden's feed for a 3-1 Vancouver lead at 1:58 of the third period. Then Ciccarelli made his big hit on the scoreboard and the Capitals were on their way to reversing Saturday's outcome, when they blew a two-goal lead in the third period and lost to Winnipeg.

"Maybe this is a start," Ciccarelli said. "We've got to get on a roll."