The Washington Capitals, who had averaged two goals in 16 winless visits to Nassau Coliseum, surprised the New York Islanders with a six-goal barrage tonight. The result, however, was the same.

The Islanders prevailed, 7-6, in a game that saw both goaltenders kayoed in the second period and neither team score in the third. The Capitals came close in the stretch, though, close enough to leave them with a feeling of total frustration.

With 2:25 remaining and Washington killing a questionable tripping penalty against Bengt Gustafsson, Mike Gartner took off on a short-handed breakaway and lined a shot that struck the crossbar and caromed over the glass.

Then, with five seconds left and goalie Al Jensen pulled for a sixth skater, Dennis Maruk won a faceoff in the Islanders' end and deflected a drive by Darren Veitch off the side of the net. Maruk took a midair swipe at the rebound and the puck flipped harmlessly into goalie Bill Smith's glove.

"I saw space upstairs and put it there, but it was just an inch too high," Gartner said of his drive. "He (Smith) looked at me and smiled after. He knew I beat him, but that crossbar is just part of his equipment."

"I tried to shovel it in there, but it hit the side of the net and came up," Maruk said of his close call. "I batted it in midair and he got it, but I think by then the buzzer had gone anyway."

"You need a break to win in this building and we didn't get it," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We're not going to score more goals against a team like that and we still didn't win."

Rookie Brent Sutter posted his first career hat trick for the Islanders, who never trailed but were deadlocked at one, three and four. Bryan Trottier had two goals, while Stefan Persson collected a goal and three assists.

Ryan Walter and Chris Valentine each scored twice for Washington, with Walter adding two assists and Valentine one. The other goals were produced by Gartner and Gaetan Duchesne.

Washington's power play clicked four times in six chances, with only one requiring more than 45 seconds after the penalty call.

"The guys were working hard on the power play and we were able to control and get over their blueline pretty regularly," Maruk said. "Four power-play goals against this team is an accomplishment."

This was the Islanders' sixth straight victory and the 400th career coaching success for Al Arbour, a defensive expert who was upset sufficiently by the six-goal yield to say, "Four hundred doesn't mean a thing. The last game you played is the only one you want to win."

The way the game started, it figured to be easy, with New York jumping into a 3-1 lead and dominating play.

The Capitals, hesitant in the early going, bounced back with two goals in the last three minutes of the period, Gartner converting a 100-foot Alley Oop pass from Rick Green and Valentine knocking in a loose puck after Denis Potvin blocked Walter's shot.

That made it 3-3 at the intermission, despite the Islanders' 15-7 advantage in shots.

Persson hit from the slot on a Trottier setup early in the second period, but Walter tied it at 3:56 with his second goal on a rebound of a shot by Maruk. That brought a dismissal notice for Islander goalie Roland Melanson, replaced by Smith after yielding four goals in 12 shots.

Washington starter Dave Parro lasted only 126 seconds longer. Parro dropped a shot by Clark Gillies and Brent Sutter netted the rebound to put New York ahead to stay. Then Mike Bossy converted Washington's first penalty into a 6-4 lead at 6:02 and Jensen was called in, Parro having surrendered six scores in 22 shots.

Duchesne trimmed the deficit to 6-5 on a third-effort goal. After receiving Bobby Gould's pass in the slot, Duchesne hesitated and Gord Lane blocked his shot. The puck popped in the air and Duchesne swung and missed, baseball fashion, before connecting after the puck settled on the ice.

Jensen provided the game's only goaltending heroics by reaching out to stop Hector Marini on a breakaway, then kicking out a drive by Bossy. But Trottier carried the puck into the crease, maneuvered around defenseman Paul MacKinnon and scored for a 7-5 lead.

Before the second intermission, Valentine rebounded a Walter shot to complete the scoring. Lee Norwood assisted for his first point as a Capital, after being obtained from Quebec on Monday.

Norwood was part of a five-man defensive unit. Jim McTaggart was left at home, along with injured Timo Blomqvist, and Terry Murray rushed back this morning to be with his wife Linda, who gave birth to a daughter, the couple's first child. Murray, at least, had reason to celebrate tonight.