Bill Smith has been a nemesis of the Washington Capitals the past three years, but it wasn't clear yesterday whether he would be in goal Wednesday night when the New York Islanders open the NHL playoffs against the Washington Capitals at Capital Centre.

Smith, who turned 35 in December, finished the year with a 20-14-4 record and 3.72 goals-against average in 41 games. It was Smith's eighth 20-victory season. But he also finished with a 9-7 loss to the New Jersey Devils Sunday night in East Rutherford, N.J.

Kelly Hrudey, 25, finished third in the league in goals-against (3.21), had a 19-15-8 record and was second in the league in save percentage. His last start was Saturday night at home against the Devils and he won, 7-1.

But Coach Al Arbour wasn't saying much yesterday, especially after undergoing oral surgery on his jaw. He told a Newsday reporter, "I'll let the goalies know tomorrow Tuesday before practice."

Arbour was asked whether he had already decided. "Yes. You don't think I'm going to wait until tomorrow and do this?" Arbour said, gesturing as if he were flipping a coin. He was not available for further comment. Indications are that Hrudey will be Arbour's choice.

The Islanders are scheduled to practice this morning at home and arrive here late this afternoon.

When Smith started the first game of last year's opening round against the Capitals, it was the 33rd consecutive playoff start for the 14-year veteran. Though he lost the opener and Hrudey lost the second game, Smith won the third and fifth games, both by 2-1 scores.

"I really want to play, but it's Al's decision," Smith told Newsday. "The big thing is that I want the team to win. If it came down to Kelly playing, I'd be behind him and rooting for him. And I'm sure he feels the same about me."

On March 28 in a game against the Islanders, the Capitals lost Bengt Gustafsson to a broken leg on a check by Denis Potvin. That same day, Mike Gartner had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.

On Sunday night, during the Capitals' 5-3 loss to Philadelphia, which gave the Flyers the Patrick Division title, Bob Carpenter's name was added to the list of injured. Yesterday, it was determined that Carpenter had a hyperextended right knee. He is listed as day to day and is considered doubtful for Games 1 and 2 and probable for Games 3 and 4.

The Islanders had differing views on what effect the injuries will have on Washington.

"Not that much," Hrudey told Newsday. "People like Dave Christian, Larry Murphy, Scott Stevens, Bob Gould are very talented and don't get the credit they deserve, especially Christian."

Defenseman Randy Boyd was more hopeful.

"I figure Washington is on a downer," Boyd said. "They haven't played that well. I saw them on TV against the Rangers, and they had no jump. Now they have a depleted lineup. If we get the jump on them, they might start to scramble and take chances. That's when we can bury them."