With their first ever playoff game rapidly approaching, the Washington Capitals got a taste of what that opening round may be like.

The New York Islanders, defending champions, are a team some insist isn't that good anymore, but they took charge for nearly two thirds of the game and sent the Capitals home with a 6-2 loss.

And in the tug-of-war for second place in the Patrick Division, the Islanders picked up four points on Washington.

"What we expected to see today was the Capitals playing at their best," said Mike Bossy, whose two goals included his 50th of the season. "But the way we played, we just didn't let them do their best."

Indeed, after an evenly matched first period, with 13 shots and two goals each by New York and Washington, the Islanders began taking control.

"I thought we played a hell of a first period," said Rod Langway. "But after that, the problem was that everything was three on two or two on one, and we gave it to them."

Bossy's first goal, in the opening period, came on the Islanders' power play, which hardly surprised Capitals Coach Bryan Murray.

"Their power play is so efficient, it gives them some control, and they always get the shooting chances," he said. "By contrast, our power play didn't even exist." The Capitals were zero for eight in man-advantage situations.

Murray has lamented the lack of a consistent power play unit all season, and said tonight, "It's a problem we'll have to correct before the playoffs. Whether we felt the pressure, or didn't respond to the test, which we didn't . . . " he shrugged.

The Capitals' early play, with goals by Ken Houston and Bob Gould, broke down in the second as the Islanders began playing what hockey players call "chippy" hockey.

Even Bossy, hardly a physical player, did his share of bumping. "That wasn't by design," he said. "But after our game (a 4-3 win) in Pittsburgh the other night, we noticed that when we're more physical, we're a much better hockey team, and that's how we played tonight."

In the second period, the Islanders began dominating by forcing play into the Capitals' end repeatedly. Bossy scored his second at 10:38, a setup by linemate Bryan Trottier that made Bossy the only player to score 50 goals in each of his first six professional seasons.

"The only way I can top that is to do it for seven," he said.

His goal seemed to fuel the already charged-up Islanders, and Dave Langevin's score, just more than a minute later, was what Langway described as "crucial."

"It was brutal," he said of Langevin's perfect aim at 11:45. "We'd worked so hard just to stop them, and then everybody just stopped on the play. When Langevin scores from the blueline, it's somebody's mistake. But it's too late in the year for us to start hanging our heads."

From there on, the Islanders restricted the flow of play, taking it away from the Capitals at every chance. "We just didn't touch a puck in that second period, and when we did, we'd just dump it off the boards," Murray said.

Washington took five shots to New York's 19. "They came out and outplayed us. We had some good passes, the first pass, but nothing was finished off," he said.

New York continued outhustling Washington throughout the final period, despite drawing six penalties during the final twenty minutes.

Goalie Billy Smith, who routinely swings his stick like a wayward ax, collected four of those penalty minutes late in the period for slashing, actually reaching out and chopping at Bengt Gustafsson's knees.

"I honestly didn't see it happen," Murray said, "but they always let him off the hook. They never give the guy a major penalty, so he'll continue to get away with it."