Picture, Former Cap Gord Lane leaves Flyer Paul Holmgrem behind in Islanders' second-game loss. AP

With six bearded players, the New York Islanders resemble a House of David on skates. On this team, defenseman Gord Lane fits in. On the Washington Capitals, Lane never found his niche.

Lane came to the Capitals' camp one year with a beard. But he was ordered, at team-picture time in March, along with Guy Charron, to shave. The next fall, he appeared with a crew cut. He suffered from a speech defect -- he stutters -- and always felt like the man on the outside, looking in.

Finally, in late November 1979, Lane walked out on the Capitals. Fed up with minimal ice time, he was adamant in his decision to retire, rather than to return, and after two weeks of waiting for a thaw, General Manager Max McNab dealt Lane to the Islanders for fourth-line center Mike Kaszycki.

Lane has found a home here on Long Island. His teammates value his talents, limited though they may be, and have made Lane welcome. Denis Potvin, for example, has grown a Lane-type beard for a postseason hunting expedition with Lane in Manitoba.

And now, Lane and his teammates are two victories from the Stanley Cup. The Islanders have a 2-1 advantage over Philadelphia with the fourth game here Monday night.

Where the Capitals benched Lane when things got tough, the Islanders use him in the most difficult situations. He kills penalties and often can be found on the ice in the last minute of a close game.

"(Coach) Al (Arbour) has confidence in me, so I guess I've been doing the job," Lane said. "We're winning and I'm playing, so I have to be happy. Al makes you work, he makes you think about your position and where you should be at as plays develop.

"Every hockey game is pressure, but I didn't know what pressure was until I came here. My first game was against the Rangers and I'd never been involved in anything like that.

"Now, the further we go, the more pressure there is. But it's worth it. I wouldn't change anything."

Arbour has no desire to rescind the Kaszycki trade, which along with the Butch Goring deal with Los Angeles, were major factors in the revitalization of the Islanders.

"Gord Lane is one of the most improved defensemen in the National League in the last two months," Arbour said. "He's playing very smart-- tough but smart.

"When we got him, we really weren't sure about him. You never know about a player until you see him every game. We knew he was a tough player and we knew he was in the penalty box a lot. But his improvement in the last two months is fantastic."

Goalie Chico Resch appreciates Lane's ability to clear marauders from his crease.

"He stands there and he's tough to move out," Resch said. "He's just where he's supposed to be. Besides that, he has a lot of intensity."

Lane was a cheerleader in Washington, at least while Tom McVie was the coach. Lane worked overtime after practice and encouraged his teammates to do the same. McVie showed confidence in Lane, although the fans jumped on every mistake and took to shouting "Lois" at him.

It was McVie who grabbed Lane from Fort Wayne while he was coaching Dayton in the International League. They became friends, because each spent a full day at the rink, workaholic McVie in his office and Lane on the ice.

While he worked so hard to improve his playing skills, Lane was reluctant to try to remedy his speech defect. Peter O'Malley, then the Capitals president, enrolled Lane in a summer-school speech-therapy course at Maryland, but Lane backed out, claiming it would interfere with his physical training for the upcoming season.

Ron Weber, the Capitals' radio announcer, interviews each player during the season. He made a gallant attempt with Lane, taping a half hour's conversation in hopes he could find a couple of usable minutes. He couldn't.

"There are times when I can converse fluently," Lane said, "but when I get rattled or become tired, I wander off a bit."

Lane, for someone with speech problems, did not always keep his mouth shut in Washington. He made many people unhappy in a restaurant one night when he told a group of fans, "You've got to be crazy to pay those prices to see this team."

Danny Belisle never was enchanted with Lane and did not hesitate to cite Lane's mistakes in postgame conversation. But it was Gary Green's displeasure with foolish penalties that sent Lane over the brink into his November walkout. Lane never has been able to restrain himself from retaliating, either to a physical assault or a verbal slur.

The move to Long Island did not measurably alter that situation, as Lane finished the season with 205 penalty minutes, just two short of his NHL high. In 18 Stanley Cup games, he has amassed a team-high 81 minutes.

The Islanders, however, are more adept at killing penalties than the Capitals and Lane's excesses have not hurt the team. In the playoffs, as luck would have it, they actually helped.

In the first game of the semifinals against Buffalo, Lane was assessed a major penalty with the Sabres ahead, 1-0. Instead of having Buffalo break the game open during the five-minute power play, New York scored shorthanded to tie it. In a later game, the Sabres scored a vital - and disallowed -- goal a moment after Lane and a Buffalo player were whistled for slashing.

Lane is unaccustomed to the long, long season and would not be unhappy to see it end in two more games.

"Beating Boston was a big thing," Lane said. "After that, we were in ecstasy. After we beat out Buffalo, we were not as joyous. We were just happy the series was over. It goes on so long. You win a series and you realize you haven't won anything, you just have to keep playing.

"We're close to the whole thing now, but we have to be afraid of Phily. They didn't win first overall by accident. This is far from over."

With the Islanders ahead in the series after Saturday's 6-2 victory, and with two key Flyers, defenseman Jim Watson (shoulder) and winger Paul Holmgren (knee) out of Monday's game and perhaps the series with injuries, days. they are likely to be fitting Gord Lane for a Stanley Cup ring in a few days.

Since Lane persists in banging his brittle hands against hard heads, as he did in the case of Philadelphia's Jack McIlhargey Saturday, it probably well be a tough fit. Considering Lane's prospects in September, when he was struggling just to earn a spot on the Capitals, the ceremony also will have the ring of fantasy.