HARTFORD, CONN., AUG. 28 -- Finland fell victim tonight to the same guys who have been making the Washington Capitals miserable in recent years.

Pat LaFontaine scored two goals and John Vanbiesbrouck had a shutout for 58 minutes as the United States beat the frustrated Finns, 4-1, in the opening game of the fourth Canada Cup.

It was LaFontaine's goal that won that epic four-overtime game for the New York Islanders over Washington in April. It was Vanbiesbrouck's superb goaltending the year before that was the key as the Capitals fell to the New York Rangers in the Patrick Division final.

Washington defensemen Rod Langway and Kevin Hatcher contributed a strong effort as Team USA defensive partners tonight, while no doubt admiring the work of LaFontaine and Vanbiesbrouck more than in past playoffs.

"This was a game we had to win," Langway said. "Now if we beat Sweden Monday {at Hamilton, Ontario}, we'll be in the medal round almost automatically."

Langway broke up repeated Finnish sorties during the second period, when the Finns were blessed with four power plays to one for the United States.

Langway also drew applause from the generally quiet crowd of 8,508 with resounding checks on Mikko Makela and Christian Ruuttu.

"Rod really played well," Hatcher said. "He's the same all the time.

"Playing with Rod made me feel comfortable and I think we did a good job. Everybody did a good job penalty killing and even though they had a lot of power plays, they didn't get many chances."

The victory was the first for the United States over Finland since April 19, 1981. In the interim, the teams had met nine times, with the Finns prevailing five times. The other four games were tied.

Some superb goaltending by Finland's Kari Takko, who plays for Minnesota in the NHL, kept the teams even tonight for almost half the game. But LaFontaine took advantage of a Finnish mistake to snap the tie at 9:17 of the second period and he, Wayne Presley and Joe Mullen padded the margin in the third, when the United States enjoyed a 21-8 advantage in shots.

"Their goalie played very well and kept them in it a long time," said U.S. Coach Bob Johnson. "But our second goal was a big one. All of a sudden we had a lot of bounce and they were down."

After LaFontaine's opening goal, scored when Finnish defenseman Jari Gronstrand failed to control a teammate's pass in his own end, Takko turned in some remarkable saves to keep the Finns in striking distance.

He foiled Washington's Kelly Miller on a shorthanded spin around, dove out to dump Wayne Presley on a three on one and foiled close-up drives by Mullen and Mark Johnson.

Takko got little of the help Langway and Hatcher were providing Vanbiesbrouck, however, and LaFontaine connected again at 4:57 of the third period, on a rebound of a shot by Gary Suter.

"We're very strong defensively and you've got to use what you do best," LaFontaine said. "There's nothing wrong with that. A lot of our guys take the body and they set up offensive opportunities. We were able to take advantage of them."

A 50-foot screened shot by Timo Jutila with 1:31 remaining spoiled Vanbiesbrouck's shutout. The crowd gave him a standing ovation at that point, remembering the sensational saves he made against Jari Kurri and Gronstrand with the game scoreless.

"We've only been together three weeks and we needed everything we got tonight," Bob Johnson said. "We had a lot of spirit, good goaltending and we played very well defensively. We also got two goals from Patty. But the big thing was the way we didn't get caught by the Finns. They move the puck very well sometimes, but we were always back."

The Canada Cup has not been a pleasant experience for Finland, which has won only one of 10 games in two previous appearances.

Two of their top defensemen, Kari Eloranta and Risto Siltanen, are not here because they could not obtain releases from their Swiss club teams, although the Canada Cup is sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

When the Finns flew in here Thursday, their equipment was left behind for a later flight out of Toronto and Thursday's scheduled practice had to be canceled.

Canada Nets Tie

United Press International

CALGARY, Alberta, Aug. 28 -- A centering pass by Antonin Stavjana deflected into the net off Canada defenseman Craig Hartsburg seven minutes into the final period tonight giving Czechoslovakia a 4-4 tie against Canada in the Canada Cup round-robin opener for both teams.

Stavjana, who passed the puck from beside the net, scored with just three seconds remaining on a power play caused by Normand Rochefort's minor penalty for high sticking.

Goalies Grant Fuhr of Canada and Dominik Hasek made key saves in the final period. Fuhr made a glove save off Rostislav Vlach on a breakaway 11 minutes into the period after Hasek foiled Mike Gartner of the Washington Capitals in close with a stick save.