The Washington Capitals can be thankful on at least one count this morning: the Stanley Cup playoffs do not begin until next week.

The much-heralded preview at Capital Centre last night was an otherwise unmitigated disaster. With Mike Bossy and Brent Sutter scoring two goals apiece, the New York Islanders thrashed the Capitals, 7-1, and chased most of the 17,848 fans out the exits before the final buzzer.

The Islanders virtually wrapped up second place in the Patrick Division and the resulting home-ice advantage in the teams' upcoming best-of-five playoff series. New York, assured of an edge in any tie breaker because of more victories, is two points ahead and each team has two games remaining.

"We got blown out," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "We didn't play with the tempo, the spirit or the goaltending they had. If we can't match up man for man in some situations better than we did tonight, we can't beat them. But we're going to play much better. I can assure you of that."

Goaltender Pat Riggin, who experienced a dreadful night in a game where the Islanders' shot advantage was only 24-23, tried to shoulder all the blame himself.

"The guys worked real hard; their problem was they had a goaltender who had a bad night," Riggin said. "It was bad timing for a bad game. There was a lot at stake tonight and I pride myself on being a pressure goaltender. But you have to take the bad with the good."

The worst of the bad came at a particularly untimely moment, 30 seconds after Bossy had beaten Riggin to a carom off the rear boards and banged the puck into the vacated net for a 1-0 advantage.

New York's Tomas Jonsson crossed the blueline near the right-wing boards and dumped the puck toward the net with a backhand motion that promised no difficulty for the goalie. However, the puck bounced crazily as it approached the goal and got between Riggin's legs to make it 2-0.

"It was a routine shot that hit a crack and skipped," Riggin said. "I had my stick down and my glove behind it, but it found a hole between my legs. I don't think it made it to the back of the net. I'd have liked to dig a hole and crawl in it."

Mike Gartner netted his 38th goal to put Washington on the scoreboard, but the fans had not finished their only full-spirited applause of the night before New York had regained its two-goal margin.

Brent Sutter converted a two-on-one pass from brother Duane, lining the puck just under the crossbar 49 seconds after Gartner's goal. Less than 13 minutes had elapsed since the opening faceoff, but the result was becoming evident.

Bossy made it 4-1 in the second period with his 59th goal of the season and 37th in 31 games against Washington. It also gave Bossy goals in six straight games.

Bob Bourne knocked in a rebound after Riggin dropped a Jonsson shot and it was 5-1 before the Capitals skated off at the second intermission to the boos of the faithless.

When Brent Sutter beat Riggin from the blueline early in the third period, the crowd began to disperse and few were left when Bob Nystrom completed the scoring with 65 seconds to play.

By then, the game had deteriorated into a farce. On one occasion, it took on the appearance of tag-team wrestling, with four separate bouts breaking out and the linesmen and referee Bryan Lewis skittering from one pair of combatants to another in vain effort to control things.

While conceding Riggin suffered a subpar night, Washington captain Rod Langway insisted that the blame should be shared among the rest of the players, and Murray agreed.

"Patty didn't have a good game, but not many guys did," Langway said. "We were discouraged about the way we played, but it's only one game in an 80-game season. We have to get ourselves mentally prepared for the playoffs now."

"Some people were outplayed badly," Murray said. "We're going to have to make some adjustments in the next couple of games. They kept Bossy, (Bryan) Trottier and (Anders) Kallur out there an awful lot and that's what they want, to play their offensive line against our defensive line."