This time it was as easy as 1-2-3.

Twenty-seven saves by goalie Pete Peeters and power-play goals by defensemen Rod Langway, Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy carried the Washington Capitals to a 3-1 victory over the New York Islanders tonight, completing a sweep of their National Hockey League Patrick Division semifinal series.

It was a glorious night for the Capitals, bounced from the playoffs by the Islanders the last three seasons, a year ago after taking a 2-0 lead. This time New York never led and scored only four goals in the three games.

This was the first time in 35 playoff series that the Islanders failed to win a game and the first time they were eliminated in the first round.

The Capitals begin a best-of-seven series for the division title Thursday against the winner of the New York Rangers-Philadelphia semifinal series, which the Rangers lead, 2-1, after a 5-2 victory tonight.

Coach Bryan Murray had no thoughts about that, however, saying, "All I wanted to do was get by this round. We had that monkey on our back. We'd scrambled to beat the Islanders for several years and I'm pleased to do it in three games. I certainly never expected that."

Peeters was outstanding for the third straight game and New York's Bryan Trottier said, "Their goaltender made some saves he didn't see." It sounded like the description of another goalie in another decisive game, New York's Bill Smith in the series finale a year ago.

This time, Smith was an observer from the bench and, as usual, he passed up the postgame handshake. This time, Kelly Hrudey was the beaten goaltender.

New York's Patrick Flatley was in the penalty box for hooking Mike Gartner when Langway matched his 71-game regular-season total of one goal. Gartner circled out unopposed from behind the New York net and fed Langway, who shot the puck over Hrudey's left shoulder.

Asked when he last scored on a power play, the defense-minded Langway said, "You know I don't care about those things. I really don't know. It might have been my first."

Washington benefited from a bit of attempted intimidation by the Islanders' Duane Sutter in the second period. Sutter, who decked Peeters from behind while the goalie was playing the puck near the rear boards, was penalized for charging.

After Hrudey made a good save on Murphy, Greg Adams made a superb rink-wide pass out of the right wing corner to Stevens, who was making a back-door move in the left wing circle. Hrudey vainly tried to move back to his right, but couldn't stop Stevens' second straight game-winner.

"I had an open net, but I took a little too long trying to make a perfect shot and it hit him as he came over," Stevens said. "I was happy it went in. I really screwed it up."

It became 3-0 late in the period after Trottier pulled Craig Laughlin down on a shorthanded two-on-one. With Trottier in the penalty box, Stevens intercepted an attempted clear at the left point and set up Murphy on the right side. He put the puck between Hrudey's legs for his eighth playoff goal.

"Earlier, I'd tried to go wide and he stopped it," Murphy said. "This time I shot it just under a guy's stick and he couldn't have seen it too well . . .

"They thrive on being successful penalty killers, they try to get good scoring chances and sometimes they make the other team look bad. We had to stop them from turning our power play sour and we did it by being a little safe, setting up good shots and going to the net."

The Islanders got a consolation goal that cheered the 16,116 fans when Bossy converted a pass from Trottier in the third period. It was Bossy's 83rd playoff goal, making him No. 1 all-time, one ahead of Maurice (Rocket) Richard.

The only other time the Nassau Coliseum crowd had a chance to yell came when the scoreboard went out in the second period and briefly reappeared with the legend "Isles 8, Visitor 5." The clock's disappearance resulted in an extra 52 seconds being played in the period. The time was deducted at the start of the third period, which began with 19:08 on the clock, to the intense displeasure of New York Coach Al Arbour.

The Islanders also were unhappy that Peeters repeatedly dislodged the net behind him. Peeters drew the game's first penalty for knocking it loose, then received a lecture from referee Andy Van Hellemond for a repeat performance during the power play that followed.

An apparent goal by Trottier was disallowed late in the second period because Alan Kerr had knocked Peeters into the net, with the post slipping off.

Then, late in the game, with Langway in the penalty box, Peeters knocked the net from its moorings twice, while blocking shots by Trottier and Pat LaFontaine.

The fans reacted by throwing debris on the ice, prompting the public-address announcer to plead for a halt.

"I'm 200 feet away, but it was a bit unusual," Hrudey said. "It must have been some sort of magnetic energy. But it is a tough call."

Laughlin, after being dumped into the boards by Trottier the first time, was a trifle groggy when Kerr rammed him into the glass a few minutes later. He was on his knees at least 20 seconds before the puck finally left the Washington zone and Van Hellemond whistled a halt to the play.

Laughlin was helped to the dressing room but sat on the bench during the third period with what was diagnosed as a slight concussion.

"I didn't know where I was," Laughlin said. "I didn't see him coming and my neck snapped against the boards. I couldn't get up. I wanted to be on the bench the third period, just to shake hands after it and have somebody wish me luck for a change."

Arbour pulled a surprise by starting the Trottier line after Murray had listed Gaetan Duchesne, Dave Christian and Bob Gould as his starting forwards. That was the matchup that resulted in Bossy being silenced at Capital Centre in the first two games.

After Washington scored, Arbour changed tactics, but Murray put Duchesne on Bossy with on-the-fly changes. On one faceoff, he had Steve Leach stand at the bench, so Duchesne could jump on the ice when the puck was dropped.

Bossy congratulated Duchesne during the ritual handshake.

"He told me I did a pretty good job on him," Duchesne said. "It's a great compliment and very nice of him, a star like he is. I'm mad he got one, but he's a great shooter."

Duchesne scored the opening goal of the first two games and almost repeated tonight. Christian's centering pass deflected off Richard Kromm and was heading for the net when Hrudey covered it, an instant before Duchesne whacked at it.

"It was close," Duchesne said. "That would have really been something. But that's okay. Everything went so well."