Alan Haworth, who spends much of his time on hands and knees, was flying high last night after his overtime goal carried the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders in the opener of their best-of-five Stanley Cup playoff series at Capital Centre.

Haworth fell in the left wing corner but managed to pass the puck out to Rod Langway at the left point. He rose in time to take Langway's return pass, circled into the slot and fired the puck off the blocker of Bill Smith to win it.

Until that score at 2:28 of sudden death, Smith had been his usual frustrating self in the Islanders' goal. He stopped 38 shots, as Washington had a 42-17 edge in that department, and only a three-shot lapse in the second period kept him from perfection.

Trailing, 2-0, the Capitals made good on three straight shots after Coach Bryan Murray called a timeout with the Islanders two men short. Larry Murphy scored the first two, 16 seconds apart, from the right point and Mike Gartner sent Washington ahead for the first time with a clever move around defenseman Tomas Jonsson.

Mike Bossy's second goal of the game tied it before the second period ended and Smith made 18 saves during a scoreless third period that was dominated by the home club.

When the teams returned for the overtime, there was wonder which New York outfit would show up, the one that had captured six straight playoff overtime contests -- with a 21-5 record through the years -- or the one that had been the NHL's poorest (1-8-5) at extra-time play during the recently concluded regular season. Haworth gave the answer.

The end came on the third shot of the extra period, Smith stopping Haworth and Lou Franceschetti before Haworth netted his eighth career Stanley Cup goal.

"The puck went back of the net and my skate slipped," Haworth said, then added with a smile, "But I'm used to it. I spend a lot of time on the ice.

"I was able to pass the puck to Rod and two guys (rookies Patrick Flatley and Pat LaFontaine) went for him. I was surprised by that, because usually you play man to man in an overtime. But it made it easy for me to get it back and I went right in, freewheeling to the net.

"I wanted to make it a good shot, because that could be your only chance in 10 minutes. You don't want to screw up in a setup like that. I didn't close my eyes. I waited till he started down and I saw some room. It was a wrist shot -- I usually wind up, but then I'm usually farther out when I shoot.

"I thought it hit his shoulder, but I guess the replay showed it was his blocker. I'm just glad it got in. Billy Smith, when it comes to playoff time, he's the best. He can do anything, like he did last year, when he was even blocking shots with his head."

It was the second playoff overtime score for Haworth, who beat Vancouver for Buffalo in 1981. He had 23 regular-season goals and was hot with four in the last two weeks after returning to his normal spot at right wing.

"It was a tough goal," Smith said. "When you get a piece of it, you don't think it's going in . . . Then it does. He had to be untouched. It was the only way he could skate in like that."

Langway said he was surprised to see two Islanders heading his way, because he had no intention of shooting the puck.

"I'm not a goal scorer," Langway said. "Some other people might have tried to shoot through two guys, but in overtime you don't want to make a bad play. If Howie (Haworth) hadn't come open, I would have shot it into the corner."

Helping Haworth break open was the way Franceschetti and Bengt Gustafsson tied up defenders Gord Dineen and Paul Boutilier, respectively.

"I just wanted to stuff the net and screen Smith," Franceschetti said. "When I saw Howie make his move, I made sure Gordie wouldn't get away from me. Howie had five or six feet to walk out there."

Dineen said, "I should have broken away from Franceschetti at that point, but I didn't see him (Haworth) until he was at the top of the circle and then it was too late."

"Boutilier was on the other side of me and I was leaning on the (right) post," Gustafsson said. "He didn't even look. He was more concerned about me."

The fifth Islander, Bob Bourne, was at the opposite side of the ice with Murphy. "I said, 'I better get over there,' " Bourne said. He arrived just in time to skate out the door.

A sellout crowd of 18,130 had booed the home club on a couple of occasions, notably during an ineffective five-minute power play in the third period, but all was forgiven afterward, as fans charged outside to buy the 1,000 tickets that remained for tonight's second game.

This was the first time, in 11 seasons, that the Islanders had ever lost their first playoff game. It was also the first time that their lowly position, third in the Patrick Division, had forced them to open on the road since 1975.

With an aging team and with superstars Bryan Trottier and Denis Potvin overworked by the 25 penalties that disrupted play, the Islanders' future hardly was bright, considering the tight schedule of this series.

Referee Ron Hoggarth whistled 13 minors in the first period, eight in the second and three in the third before a major to Flatley concluded his punishment duties for the night. When Flatley went off at 10:55 for shoving his stick in Franceschetti's mouth, the crowd smelled victory. Instead, it was the Washington power play that smelled. Following a shot off the ensuing faceoff, it was 3 1/2 minutes before the Capitals even took a shot -- and that went wide.

In all, the Capitals converted two of 10 power plays, the Islanders one of five. New York drew 15 penalties, Washington 10.

Pat Riggin won a playoff game against the Islanders for the first time after four defeats. He was Murray's choice over Al Jensen, who had been sharper lately, because Riggin had carried the club for much of the regular season.

Riggin yielded Mike Bossy's 78th and 79th goals in Stanley Cup play, tying the New York winger with Jean Beliveau on the all-time list; Rocket Richard is the top man with 82. And Potvin, sweeping past defenseman Murphy, provided the Islanders' 2-0 lead with his 51st playoff goal.

Watching the game from the press box was Fred Shero, former Philadelphia and New York Rangers coach who accepted General Manager David Poile's invitation to help the Capitals during the playoffs. Afterward, Shero left to scout the remainder of the series between the Flyers and Rangers. The Capitals expect to make good use of his analysis in the divisional final.