It was a typical drag-down, knock-about struggle between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, with one major exception. This time the Capitals frustrated Bill Smith.

The goalie who has made Washington players and fans so miserable found himself on the losing side of both the extracurricular activities and the score last night.

The Capitals sent a sellout Capital Centre crowd of 18,130 home happy -- after a brief display of anger had fans tossing liquids and debris on the ice -- by defeating the Islanders, 4-3.

Not one of the seven goals came with both teams at full strength as referee Kerry Fraser labored mightily to control matters reasonably. Each club converted three power plays and Mike Gartner produced the eventual game winner with a man from each team in the box.

Craig Laughlin scored twice in the first period to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead and Alan Haworth got his 22nd goal in the second. Three times the Islanders trimmed two-goal deficits to one, but they never caught up and lost a season series to Washington for the first time, also 4-3.

Gartner's winner was his 47th goal and also his 500th NHL point, the first Capital to reach that figure. It came 27 seconds into the third period, as a shot by Dave Christian struck Gartner's stick and deflected past Smith. Christian had controlled the puck after Smith dived out to knock it off Gartner's stick.

"Dave was at the side of the net and I was skating for the net," Gartner said. "It was heading for the center of the net when it hit the shaft of my stick and went in on the short side."

A penalty to goalie Al Jensen for slashing helped the Islanders, as Denis Potvin shot the puck over Jensen's right shoulder from the left wing circle on the power play.

Contributing to the Islanders' failure to tie were four minor penalties, none coincidental. New York was short-handed eight minutes in the last 12:20.

A big one was charged to Smith with 3:07 remaining, for cross-checking Lou Franceschetti.

"I was five feet in front of the net and he whacked me," Franceschetti said. "I was trying to screen him whenever I could, but that time I wasn't really close enough for him to get upset.

"I don't mind. If he wants to get a stupid penalty like that in the last three minutes, it just helps us. With our power play going well, anytime they want to take a penalty, it's okay."

When Fraser whistled Clark Gillies for slashing Peter Andersson with 9:45 left, Smith took advantage of the referee's attention being elsewhere to punch Greg Adams.

"I think he was frustrated," Adams said. "I was trying to stay close to the crease and he kept whacking my legs. That was fine with me. If he's whacking my legs, he's not watching the puck. I turned and laughed at him and he swung at me. I backed up right away, hoping Fraser would call a penalty, but he said he'd already called one and that was it."

Mikko Leinonen put his stick on Smith's chin in the first period and the goalie lay on the ice a while before resuming play.

Later, Smith wandered out of the net, thought he was covering the puck and tried to scramble back when he saw it elsewhere. Leinonen cut him down outside the crease.

"I've played him three times in the playoffs and I know what he's doing," Leinonen said. "It's always nice to talk to him and see him start to hesitate. It lets him know it doesn't work anymore."

Smith, whose sensational play was a major factor in the Islanders' playoff victories over Washington the last two seasons, declined comment. Since he recently was fined $500 for demeaning a referee, he could hardly be blamed for his silence.

Although Fraser ignored the Islanders' wrestling holds when they were already short-handed, prompting the crowd to throw things, he certainly did a better job of controlling these two bitter rivals than some who have officiated past confrontations.

"They obviously felt they could get away with a lot in the last few minutes," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "It's the old theory that if you do a lot of things, you only get caught for a few. He let a few go, but on the whole I've really got to be satisfied with his work."

Murray also was pleased with his players, after two dull outings. Adams, Franceschetti, Bob Carpenter and Scott Stevens dealt some solid checks.

"Every guy who got a chance to play tonight played hard," Murray said. "We came up big against Montreal last week, so maybe we need the big games to get us to show that kind of intensity. I'll settle for that in the playoffs."

Mike McEwen returned from a back injury and helped the power play get going. During the four games he missed since early March, the conversion rate was one for 20. In the last eight he has played, the figure is 16 for 41.

The crowd increased the average to 14,068 with one home game remaining, next Sunday against Pittsburgh. The Capitals' best previous figure was 12,376 two years ago.