Everybody agreed yesterday's was the most thrilling, dramatic, inspirational and colossal Stanley Cup game ever played in Capital Centre. Also, even more accurately, it was the worst.

A stranger in the land of pucks left this first-ever NHL home playoff for the Capitals even more confused than when he'd arrived. Not that the Islanders won, or even that they scored four more goals. But how come when our favorite athletic workaholics had one more shooter on the ice it was the other guys who seemed stronger?

Such situations are known as power plays, I'm told.

Power failures are what they were.

Maybe Bryan Murray ought to rush the Beach Boys in for tonight's fourth game. Run 'em out there every time some smarty Islander draws a penalty and see if they can knock Denis Potvin as flat as they did James Watt.

Just trying to be helpful, coach.

Murray has heard such sass before.

A good deal of this sensational season, nit-pickers among fans and the press have wondered how a team could be close to heavenly five on five and close to horrific five on four. Betcha the Redskins could score once if the Cowboys were forced to play minus a Randy White or Everson Walls 11 times.

Cap pistols fired blanks that often in extra-man chances yesterday.

Rarely, if ever, has a team gone from hope to despair as quickly as the Capitals in the second period yesterday. Having surrendered two honest goals in the first quarter, they had back-to-back extra-man chances. Mats Hallin was chased two minutes for holding, and about when he was leaving the penalty box Potvin was going in for hooking.

For nearly four straight minutes, the Capitals were one-up on the ice; they still stayed two-down on the scoreboard.

That was the good news.

Almost as soon as Potvin's sentence had ended, the Islanders scored their third goal. Very shortly, they did another gloom-to-doom dance on Murray's team and Murray's mind. Yep, the Capitals executed another power failure superbly--and then gave up their fourth goal.

"Rather demoralizing," General Manager David Poile put it between periods.

The Capitals even managed to botch what should have been a gift goal, a five-on-three opportunity for 84 seconds before the game was seven minutes old.

Is there no limit to this frustration?

Five Islanders yesterday could have hooked, high-sticked, interfered, tripped and roughed at exactly the same moment, squeezed into the penalty box together, watched the Capitals have nothing between them and the goalkeeper and mutter: "Not to worry."

It was that sad.

With all the constructive criticism that has filled the papers and Capitals' ears about power failures (don't hesitate, fire the damn thing!), it was especially vexing for fans to watch Dennis Maruk once during that double-stumble in the second period. Instead of shooting, Maruk was treating the puck as a cook does an egg: flicking it about a small space in front of him.

While Maruk turned, once, twice, three times over lightly, Murray burned.

Done to a crisp, he later cut off a press conference during a power play from reporters about power-play ineptness when somebody dared to get specific in player criticism. Before, he'd admitted being as upset as the paying customers.

And as unsure about solutions.

"Didn't give each other a note," Maruk said.

One observer with little faith asked Brian Engblom if the team "would start all over next year on the power play?"

Engblom frequently had been out of position on the ice; he gave this shot the swift blast it deserved.

"Didn't know this year was over," he snapped. "Don't we have a game tomorrow?"

Sure do.

"Not much left to say," he added. "We'll have to concentrate on what we did well Thursday (in that 4-2 upset in Game 2) and forget about what went bad today. If you dwell on the negative, you go crazy. It could have been nothing--nothing out there.

"Maybe he (whomever the Islanders use in goal) will miss a few, like (Billy) Smith did in the second game."

"No way the game tomorrow can be as bad as today," Randy Holt insisted.

Yesterday's began so cheerily. A multiminute standing ovation when the team took the ice; blue-and-white pompons aflutter; even the one or two empty seats were in salute position.

"The most pressure these guys ever faced," Murray said.

Had something, anything, gone right early, the team might have ridden that to more glory. Or the Islanders might well have gotten even more serious. They have won the Cup back to back to back, after all.

Expectations were not so enormous when the series started. Many already have been exceeded. The fans who booed after the second period and then flowed from the Centre so early were irritated not at the effort but at the failure at such odd times.

One sick sort made the players' walk to the dressing room at the end even more demoralizing.

"Give it up . . . quit," was the most printable remark.

Pretty fickle for a fan denied a playoff team for nine years, and going against one of the most seasoned and successful teams in the history of sport.

"I was very positive (to the team in his postgame remarks)," Murray said. "I never criticize them for work habits. They pushed themselves. Hard. But (the Islanders) were stronger in some of the matchups."

Some more advice for tonight to the Capitals: when the officals call a penalty on the Islanders, shout: "Didn't touch me!" To fans: when it's power play, think power pray.