Rookie goaltender Cleon Daskalakis of the Boston Bruins celebrates his 23rd birthday today. But he may have aged a couple of more years in just 84 seconds last night, with 10,283 Capital Centre customers watching.

Daskalakis and the Bruins seemed to be breezing to an easy NHL exhibition victory over the Capitals when Gary Sampson, Greg Adams and Bengt Gustafsson scored on three straight shots late in the third period to lift Washington to a 4-3 victory.

Daskalakis, out of Boston University, had stopped 23 of 24 shots when his nightmare began as he covered the puck with no Capitals player in immediate view and was called for delay of game.

In the early moments of the ensuing power play, Daskalakis was shaken up twice.

First defenseman Brian Curran knocked Sampson into him. Then Craig Laughlin, marginally bothered by another defender, fell over him.

"I was going to the net hard and a defenseman cross-checked me," Laughlin said. "I didn't really stop my momentum. If someone's going to hit me, I'll keep on going. I saw his (Daskalakis') face when we were down and he looked tired."

Daskalakis stayed in the game because the other goalie the Bruins brought here, Bill Ranford, had been rendered hors de combat by a below-the-belt shot in the pregame warmup.

Only seven seconds were left in the extra-man setup and a mere 4:59 in the game when Sampson, a Boston College graduate, converted Scott Stevens' setup to bring Washington within 3-2.

"Once we got that first goal, we all said, 'Let's put the next shot on net,' " Sampson said.

"He's young and it was hot out there and there was a lot of pressure on him. Locker (Laughlin) ran into him and I hit him and he certainly looked like he was feeling it. After I scored, I leaned over and said, 'Hello, Cleon.' I owed him one for all the times he stopped me in college."

The next shot was on net. Adams, left alone on the left wing by Bryan Erickson's adept blueline pass, fired the puck over Daskalakis' left shoulder with 4:11 left to create a 3-3 tie.

Just 36 seconds later, Gustafsson lined a 40-footer past the shaken goaltender to produce the victory.

"I was going to shoot, but the defenseman was halfway down, so I waited," Gustafsson said. "He got back up and I saw the goalie was still at the goal line, leaving a hole like this (spreading his arms far apart). That made it easy."

Earlier, Gustafsson had set up Laughlin for the goal that ended a scoreless stretch of 112 minutes 11 seconds for the Capitals. Gustafsson blocked a pass by Curran, skated in on a breakaway until Daskalakis committed himself and then slid a perfect pass to Laughlin for a dramatic goal.

Not long before, Gustafsson made a similar pass with a shot in sight, trying to set up Yvon Corriveau for a goal. The puck was deflected wide and that mishap contributed to Laughlin's surprise on the score.

"I was going in just looking for a rebound," Laughlin said. "I was sure Gus would shoot until he suddenly moved a little to his left and I had a feeling I'd better stay awake or I could look awfully foolish."

Gustafsson had skated only one shift against in a 5-0 loss to Hartford Thursday, after his custom-made knee brace was left behind. His work last night helped give the Capitals, who twice trailed by two goals, a 1-1-1 exhibition mark. They will play the Bruins again tonight in Boston, then visit Hartford Monday.

Five players scratched from that trip were assigned to Binghamton yesterday, although the American Hockey League team does not open its camp until Tuesday. Farmed out were defensemen Grant Jennings and Dan Ryder, center Steve Linseman and right wings Jim Thomson and Mike Siltala.