Like mythological Sisyphus, the improbable Washington Capitals keep pushing that boulder up the hill, without ever getting to the top. The eighth straight year of failure is approaching mathematical certainty, with Washington 10 points behind fourth-place Pittsburgh and only seven games remaining.

The mathematics of tonight's game with the New York Islanders (WDCA-TV 20 at 8) at Nassau Coliseum are not encouraging, either.

The Islanders are the National Hockey League's best team, they are unbeaten in their last 19 home games and they have not lost to Washington in 11 meetings over the last two years.

For psychological impact, both teams will be remembering Sunday's 3-2 New York victory at Capital Centre, when Mike Bossy's goal with 35 seconds left took much of the remaining heart out of the Capitals.

It was the fourth straight game Washington had carried a lead into the third period and failed to win, and it came the night after another disheartening home-ice loss, 4-3 to the New York Rangers.

"We're going to play every game as hard as we can and try to win as many games as we can, but it is difficult when you lose 4-3 and 3-2 hockey games you have a heck of a chance of winning," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray.

Washington's flickering playoff hopes were all but extinguished by Sunday's combination of that Islander disaster and Pittsburgh's 6-0 victory in Denver, where veteran goalie Gary Edwards shut out Colorado despite the Rockies' 38-29 advantage in shots.

Bossy is feeling fine despite his Avis status as the NHL's No. 2 scorer, far in arrears of The Great Gretzky. Bossy's winning goal was his 137th point of the season, an NHL record for a right wing, as he topped the 1976-77 mark of Montreal's Guy Lafleur.

"I'm only one away from 300 goals and pointwise this is the best season of my career, so I'm happy with the way things have gone," Bossy said. "I can't do anything about what Wayne Gretzky does."

Twenty-four of Bossy's 299 career goals have come against Washington. Obviously, the Capitals cannot do much about what Bossy does.