Coach Bryan Murray called it a dreadful game, and for the Capitals, that's about the most positive thing to be said for tonight's 8-1 loss to the New York Islanders. Mike Bossy scored four times to pass the 300 career goal mark.

The Capitals, whose playoff chances are nearly out of reach for yet another year, scored the game's first goal, a power play tally by Darren Veitch, at 8:39 of the first period. Washington fans could have tuned out right there, as the Islanders took control and hardly allowed the Capitals near the puck for the remainder of the night.

Brent Sutter came back with a score after Veitch's goal and that 1-1 tie at the end of the first period was as close as the Capitals would get to the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Early in the second period, Sutter skated into Washington goalie Al Jensen. Lee Norwood came to Jensen's rescue and was ejected from the game, as was Sutter, and every other player on the ice, with the exception of Islander goalie Roland Melanson, was slapped with a misconduct penalty. In all, referee Bruce Hood gave out 139 penalty minutes for the incident.

Bossy's power play goal in the second period was his 300th career goal. The four for the night marked the third time in five NHL seasons he has reached the 60 plateau; only Phil Esposito, when with Boston, has had more 60-goal seasons, four.

Washington's troubles were endless. After Bossy had made it 3-1 at 10:3l of the second, a goal originally credited to Denis Potvin, Murray switched goalies.

But Dave Parro was just as erratic in the nets as Jensen. When Bob Bourne scored at 11:23 of the second period, the Capitals faced a long climb back from a 4-1 hole. Another Bossy score four minutes later dug the hole deeper.

"We just weren't as organized as we can be," said Murray. "We started out, but they got us almost disinterested about playing the balance of the game once they scored five goals on us."

And that wasn't all. Although the electronic scoreboard at the Coliseum read "Have Mercy!", the Islanders ignored the message in the third period, as Bob Nystrom, Bourne and Bossy each scored to up the insult: 6-1, 7-1, 8-1. No, it's not a leftover tennis result.

"Our pursuit has been real good the last few games and our puck-handling has been excellent," Bossy said, "but I feel I still can improve.

"Our line (center Bryan Trottier, left wing John Tonelli) has excelled in the last four or five games and we've taken advantage of some opportunities. Tonight, it seemed that we had more energy than usual. They couldn't keep us bottled up."

Bossy also was the villain against the Capitals Sunday night at Capital Centre, scoring with 35 seconds left in the Islanders' 3-2 victory.

"I'm very happy for Bossy," said Coach Al Arbour. "He's worked real hard, especially the last few weeks."

For Washington, the loss sends those anemic playoff hopes further into intensive care. On Thursday and Saturday, the Capitals face another Patrick Division foe, the Philadelphia Flyers, and failure to come away with at least a point in each game would make the postseason more doubtful than ever.

Despite the loss to New York, Murray insists, "I will think playoffs until we are eliminated."

A few more nights like this will guarantee it.