Of all the players who have bedeviled the Washington Capitals during their 12-year history, none has matched the problems created by Bill Smith and Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders.

Smith has earned 21 of his 263 NHL victories in goal against Washington, and he has been instrumental in eliminating the Capitals from the playoffs the last three years. But at least Coach Al Arbour occasionally shows an ounce of humanity by starting another goalie.

Seven times each regular season, plus those seemingly inevitable playoff matchups, the Capitals can be sure to run into Bossy, with the next encounter Tuesday at Nassau Coliseum.

Bossy, seven goals away from his ninth straight 50-goal season, has exploited the Capitals beyond the realm of probability. Fifty of his 517 goals have come against the Capitals, along with four of his 35 career hat tricks. In the teams' last meeting, Jan. 24, he had four points in a 7-5 New York victory to hit 1,000.

Washington Coach Bryan Murray has tried various tactics to slow Bossy, without success. Playing on the road, where the Islanders' Arbour owns the last change, the Capitals have little hope for much more than prayer.

"Ideally, I'd like to have Rod Langway on the ice against Bossy and Bryan Trottier," Murray said. "If not Rod, then certainly Scott Stevens . I'd like to have Gaetan Duchesne out there with Gus Bengt Gustafsson , too, but I think they'll try to keep them away from them.

"We've used Bob Carpenter's line against Trottier's line with some success, with Gaetan on the left side. You don't want to continually change on the fly and disrupt everything, but if Bossy is getting chances consistently, we'll have to look at that."

It is difficult to try to match a checking line against Bossy, Trottier and whatever left wing is in Arbour's favor, because Arbour tends to double-shift the line and keep the opposition's best scorers off the ice.

Putting a shadow on Bossy is no answer, either, because Bossy tends to roam, and anybody assigned to stick to him is effectively removing himself and, most likely, his entire line from any offensive role.

"If Bryan says to shadow him," Duchesne said, "I'll play him man to man. But you can do nothing for your line -- just follow him all over the ice."

Bossy is famed for his quick shooting release, but Duchesne feels a more important factor in his success is the instinct to find open ice to receive the puck.

"He finds the hole pretty good," Duchesne said. "If you make a mistake, he capitalizes on it. He plays with a good center, and Trottier gets the puck and feeds him.

"Bossy knows what to do with the puck, that's for sure. But we can't concentrate on one guy. We have to play our game and take care of our end. We're a better team, we've proved it and we've got the third-best record in the league."

Although the Capitals' margin over the Islanders has dwindled to six points, Washington has two games in hand. After Tuesday, the teams meet three times, twice at Capital Centre.

The Capitals could have drafted Bossy, who went to the Islanders as the 15th pick in the first round in 1977, the year Washington chose Robert Picard.

If they botched that selection, the Capitals certainly made a good one when they picked unheralded Duchesne in the eighth round in 1981. He has been a solid defensive player and penalty killer for five seasons.

Duchesne set up Gustafsson for two goals as the Capitals beat Los Angeles, 4-1, Saturday and he thinks that game marked the start of a determined stretch drive.

"Before, maybe three or four guys were off their game on a night, but this year it all happened at the same time," Duchesne said.

"It means nothing to beat Edmonton if we lose to Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, our mind was not there, but we had a meeting in Los Angeles and we needed to wake up and we did. We know we have to show up every night. That was our key in the past." Flyers 8, Jets 4

In Philadelphia, rookie Pelle Eklund scored a goal and had two assists. Eklund, 23, scored the winning goal at 16:25 of the second period, putting Philadelphia ahead of Winnipeg, 5-2. Brian Propp, Tim Kerr and Brad McCrimmon each had a goal and an assist and Ron Sutter had two goals for the Flyers. Kings 3, Canadiens 2

In Montreal, Brian Erickson scored his second goal of the game with 24 seconds left in overtime to lift Los Angeles. Erickson, on a two-on-one break with Bernie Nicholls, fired the puck through the legs of goalie Patrick Roy.

Erickson's 30-foot slap shot at 12:59 of the third period sent the game into overtime, tied at 2.