When their 14-game unbeaten streak started in a modest 3-3 tie at Edmonton a month ago, the Washington Capitals' goal was modest: to earn a first-ever berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Tonight, after a 5-1 rout of the champion New York Islanders in Nassau Coliseum, the goal was raised. The Capitals are aiming to finish first in the Patrick Division.

Two points behind the leading Islanders, the Capitals enjoy five games in hand and the knowledge that they can handle the best in hockey. Certainly, they can compete with the Patrick's best, since they are unbeaten in their last 10 within the division.

"That was the test right there," Glen Currie said in a Washington dressing room highlighted by wounds of battle, broad smiles and exchanges of holiday greetings among players who now have two days off to celebrate both Christmas and their own coming of age. "That's the best team in the league. Now we can compete with anybody."

"At the start of the year, we were skating to be in the playoffs," Doug Jarvis said. "Now we're aiming higher than that. It's now realistic to want to shoot for first place in the division. I'm excited about the way things are going."

"With five games in hand, you never know what could happen," Dennis Maruk said. "We're close. It's a great Christmas present.

"We've played a lot of good teams in this streak. We've had success at home and we've had success on the road. The other teams know now that when they play the Washington Capitals they'd better be ready to work."

"I thought we might get four or five points on this trip," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We set a reward level for four. But after Minnesota, where we should have won and just got a tie, I could feel the team was ready for bigger things. But seven points in Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and here. We've got the ball rolling pretty good."

"Beating them like we did maybe proves we are there," Bobby Gould said. "We still have to work hard every night, but coming in here and beating them is a real confidence builder. It's almost a scary thing. I don't know when we'll lose and I don't want to."

"Things are going real well--it's unbelievable," Scott Stevens said.