Coach Bryan Murray called his Washington Capitals irresponsible after his team assured itself of a third-place finish in the Patrick Division by losing to Detroit tonight, 8-7.

The Red Wings scored the tying and winning goals in the game's final 4:10, the last coming with only nine seconds left from ex-Capital Tom Rowe, his second of the contest.

The loss gives the New York Islanders, who have beaten the Capitals three times of four on Long Island this season, home-ice advantage in the playoff series which begins Wednesday.

"Something's slipping, that's for sure," Murray said, after watching the Capitals lose their third lead of the night.

"We just didn't play with responsibility and it started right back with the warmups. Some guys were coming right up to (Washington goalie) Al Jensen and shooting at his head from five feet out. The same thing happened to Pat Riggin the other night against the Islanders.

"Sure Al blew the last goal. He blew the last two goals. But how's a goalie supposed to get warmed up when guys come out not thinking about anything and start shooting at his head?"

Detroit gave Jensen plenty of time to warm up during a meekly played first period. The Wings scored only once during that period on Rowe's 40-foot drive. Meanwhile, Bobby Carpenter and Alan Haworth were helping Washington build a 2-1 lead.

The shooting began in earnest during the wild second period, in which seven goals were scored, and Washington twice blew two-goal leads.

Gaetan Duchesne made it 3-1, Capitals, 4:41 into the period, steering Rod Langway's shot from the point past Wing goalie Corado Micalef with good stick work.

But the Wings, playing their final home game of the season, rallied for two quick goals to pull even at the 13:40 mark. Mike Blaisdell, with a second rebound, and John Ogrodnick, who got off a slap shot from the left point, did the scoring.

Glen Currie and rookie defenseman Scott Stevens rebuilt the two-goal lead, scoring at 14:04 and 14:36.

But Detroit's Ivan Boldirev scored twice, at 17:13 and 18:18, to tie the score once more.

Detroit opened the scoring in the third, as Jensen failed to locate Reed Larson's 70-foot slap shot while Detroit was on a power play.

Ken Houston scored at 11:13 and 13:48, to put victory within sight.

But the seldom-used Rowe brought Detroit to life in the game's waning minutes, dashing around the Washington defense to set up Ogrodnick at 15:50, then snapping a wrist shot past Jensen for the game-winner at 19:29.

"I just let it go and there it went," said Rowe, who scored five of his season total 15 points tonight.

The Capitals traded Rowe away three seasons back but he said that fact didn't influence his play.

"The management that traded me is gone," Rowe said.

And gone may be where the Capitals will be, unless their once-stingy defense, which has given up 20 goals over the past three games, recovers its touch in the playoffs.

So said Captain Rod Langway, adding, "I don't know what it is, but we'd better get it turned around before next week or it will be an early vacation."

Haworth and Bengt Gustafsson left the game, with a knee strain and back spasm, respectively. Their status was not immediately known. Jensen was also examined by the Wings physician for a bruise on the left breastbone incurred when one of the few pucks he stopped last night struck him in the second period.