Now these were the real Islanders, or so they said.

"After we stood around and just watched on Thursday night, we had to come in here confident that we could win," said Islander captain Denis Potvin. "We knew we could win here, we had to win here. And the first one (in another building) is always the best to get."

The Islanders, who had struggled throughout most of the Thursday game that became the Capitals' first playoff victory ever, came back yesterday with a different goaltender, and penalty killing that kept Washington scoreless in 11 chances.

"Coming in here, knowing they'd be really pumped by their crowd, we wanted to get the lead early. We knew we had to," said Bob Nystrom. "I think Bob Bourne took the bull by the horns with those two early goals. That took away some of their steam."

In taking away the Capitals' steam, New York poured on its own, coming closer to the level of play the Islanders annually display during April and May.

"Rollie (Melanson) made some terrific saves for us," said Bryan Trottier, who scored a pair of goals in the middle period. "He'd cover the rebounds and if he couldn't, he send it back into a corner so everybody could have a chance at it. And our penalty killers deserve a toast. We could have been in real trouble those first 10 minutes; they kept us in the game."

Two of the Islanders' goals--both by Bourne--came in four-on-four situations. "I don't think we were conscious of looking for more shots in those situations," Trottier said. "And I wouldn't call Washington weak in that area. It may seem like it, but no way. Today, we were just shooting and skating more."

Melanson, playing his third NHL playoff game, after one each in 1981 and 1982, said he had been telling Coach Al Arbour how ready he was. "I've felt that way all year," he said. "I've felt strong, ready. All I wanted was a chance."

Arbour told Melanson late Friday he would be in the net the following afternoon. "He deserved a chance to play," he said. "The guy'll probably be on the all-star team, and I didn't hesitate at all to put him in (in place of Billy Smith, who had started the first two games). And he came up with a very solid performance."

The last time Melanson was a playoff goalie was during the Islanders' preliminary round series last year with the Penguins, a 5-2 loss.

"I didn't want this one to be like Pittsburgh," he said. "Going in, I wasn't going to be too nonchalant. If you're too cool about it, you can't play as well."

Melanson said he especially enjoyed playing the afternoon game because "you get up, have breakfast and come out to play without spending too much time thinking about it. Thinking too much sometimes can hurt, and I didn't want any excuses."

After watching the previous two games from the bench, Melanson said he didn't know what type of hockey to expect. "It could have been very wide open or very defensive," he said. "I knew I would play my game, which is to not wander too much. And playing the Capitals, the one thing I wanted to do was take away the slot. They only got two or three chances from there."

Melanson was unsure whether he would play again today, and Arbour wasn't saying. "I'm ready anyway," he said, straightening his tie.

All the Islanders say they're ready too--ready to wrap up this series tonight. "We're ahead, 2-1, now, but we're really not playing very well, for an Islander team," said Potvin. "In a situation like ours, you really want to put an end to it. There's nothing better than finishing up, then going home for a few days to practice and work on some things. Our club needs to practice and regroup."

Potvin was asked about Washington's invisible power play. "I should tell the Capitals, it's a terrible, terrible feeling," he said. "You start trying things you shouldn't and everything you do is wrong and nullifies the power play."

He smiled. "As long as the Capitals keep doing that, we'll be all right."