This was Opening Night for Pete Peeters. This was the night he and the Washington Capitals have waited for since Nov. 14.

That was the day the Capitals swapped goalies with the Boston Bruins, sending Pat Riggin to the Bruins to acquire Peeters.

They made the trade for one reason: This month, this series, this game. Last night, if Bobby Carpenter and Mike Gartner were the inspiration, Peeters was the backbone in the Capitals' 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders in the first game of their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series at Capital Centre.

When the score was tied at 1 in the second period and the crowd was humming nervously, wondering if the Islanders would pick up where they had left off in the last three postseason series, Peeters stopped a Mike Bossy wrist shot, the same one that had eluded goalies 61 times this season. He kept Bossy's partner, Bryan Trottier, from pushing the puck past him moments later. He kept the puck in front of him until the Capitals finally could push it past Kelly Hrudey at the other end.

"History shows that you have to have great goaltending to win the Stanley Cup," Capitals General Manager David Poile said later. "We've always used two goalies in the playoffs and we probably will this year. But you want to have one guy who is clearly your No. 1 goalie, the guy you look to."

That is why Poile went after Peeters. The reason Washington always has used two goalies in the playoffs is because no one ever had established himself as No. 1. And, when Riggin gave up a soft goal against the Calgary Flames in an early season game to thwart a rousing Washington comeback, it was clear his days in Washington were numbered.

Enter Peeters. As a rookie in 1980 with Philadelphia, he took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final series. The Flyers lost that series in six games -- to the Islanders. In 1983, he won the Vezina Trophy for the Boston Bruins and took them to the semifinals. There, the Bruins lost to -- guess who? -- the Islanders.

"Doesn't matter at all," Peeters insisted after making 32 saves last night. "What matters is I've been in the league seven years. I've got the experience. I know what to expect out there. I want to win the Stanley Cup. It takes 15 wins to do that. This is just one."

Psychologically, however, it was a big one. After last year's collapse against the Islanders, losing Game 1 at home would have hurt Washington. In the third period, with the Islanders pressing to mount a comeback, Peeters made certain it didn't happen.

"To beat the Islanders, you have to stop their power play," Rod Langway said. "Pete came up with the big saves when they had a chance to come back with a power play goal."

Peeters' best save of the night came right after Dave Christian's goal had made it 3-1. On the power play, the Islanders' Brent Sutter, a clever player in the slot, swooped in from the left side, came in point blank on Peeters and shot: Peeters smothered the puck, it skittered free and Denis Potvin, following from the left side, tried to push it past the goalie. No luck. Peeters, who has failed in the past against these Islanders, would not fail on this night.

"I played with Pete on Team Canada two years ago when we beat the Russians, 4-3, in overtime," Gartner said. "I found out then that he was a big-game goalie. He didn't just make good saves, he made big ones. There's a difference. The save on the power play when the other team is trying to come back; the save with the score tied. Those are big saves. Tonight, Pete made all those saves."

Peeters wasn't about to get excited about those saves. It was, after all, just one night. "We've got to come back and do the same thing tomorrow," Peeters said, ducking toward the exit while most of his teammates were still in various stages of undress. "This is nothing to get excited about."

That is exactly why Peeters is here. He isn't excited, he's just ready. He is clearly No. 1, the goalie the Capitals will rise or fall with. They have never had that before. Did Peeters think that was why Poile had wanted him?

"I don't know," he said. "I don't get paid to think. I get paid to stop the puck."

Last night, he earned his money. One down, 14 to go.