"I have a gray Cadillac and the license plates say MY CAPS," said Bonnie Slotkin. "I'm insane."

Her husband, Jay, was making few gestures toward ordinary behavior himself. "Nine years we've been coming," said the Potomac periodontist. "I said I'd dress up for every playoff game if they ever made it."

Clearly, the Capitals' first home appearance in a Stanley Cup playoff game had them a bit out of sorts. Wearing a tuxedo and brandishing a cane, Jay looked like a rejected extra from "Silk Stockings." In her zebra-striped shoes, Bonnie added a touch of funk to her formal wear.

The couple greeted friends at Portal 6 as if they were parents of the bride--though the bridesmaid would be more like it.

"We're originally from New York," said Bonnie Slotkin. "All our friends know we've been following this team for years, and when the Caps made the playoffs everybody called us to say, 'Mazel tov.' "

Apparently, some fans associate the Stanley Cup with a peculiar elegance; the Slotkins were not alone.

"Years I've waited for this," said Tom Sykes of Bowie, who wore an ensemble that consisted of a rented tuxedo and one of those fuzzy blue hats with a ball on top. Sykes may not be a sartorial purist, but his hockey fanaticism is unadulterated: "I was here in the days when they used to throw Hershey Bars out on the ice and yell, 'Go back to Hershey!' "

Sykes' date, Cathy Miller of Oxon Hill, wore a powder blue gown that was more reminiscent of junior proms than hockey games, but she felt entitled to a celebration.

"I'm addicted," she said. "We're going to sweep the Stanley Cup, so I'm not worried about any withdrawal symptoms."

Even while the Islanders were going a long way toward dashing her prediction, Miller spoke as though the days of desolation were behind her and the team.

"We called in and asked about playoff tickets back in October," she said. "They told us not to bother them with silly requests. But we knew."

If anyone, though, was to win an award at yesterday afternoon's game for lifetime dedication it would have been Lois Knox, 12, of Clinton.

"I've been coming to games since I'm 3 years old," she said. "The first time I came here I remember we sat way up. That's all I remember. I knew the positions. Now I really love sitting right above the glass."

Isn't it a little dangerous?

"I never get hit by the pucks," she said. "My father catches 'em."

When the Islanders and Capitals were playing the first two games of the series in Uniondale, perhaps the most appropriate place for Washington fans to watch was Faunsworth's, a bar about a mile from the Capital Centre.

This week, long-suffering fans watched the series on two TV sets and a giant screen at the bar. Among them were some who had remained faithful through the hard times.

"For seven years, (the Capitals) were the sorriest thing that ever happened to the sport of hockey," said Walt Cunningham, 23, who has followed the team from their first loss.

Washington players have been frequenting Faunsworth's since the inception of the franchise. Owner Jim Deckman recalled: "Occasionally we had some problems with players biting customers."

Faunsworth's, decorated with sticks, pucks, jerseys and a gallery of action photographs, first attracted players with the smell of the sea.

"I had ordered a whole bunch of smoked oysters and sardines that nobody wanted," Deckman said. "The Canadians on the team came in and started eating them right out of the cans. A relationship started."

Where once the bar was the scene of many fights--often instigated by one of the players--it is now a calmer place, Deckman said.

"It's not like in the good old days," said Deckman. "The players are a more professional group. They're not into punching people. The old guys were a very frustrated group of men."