UNIONDALE, N.Y., NOV. 10 -- The New York Islanders have a way of leaving the Washington Capitals in distress. Brad Lauer's goal at 4:25 of sudden-death overtime gave the Islanders a 4-3 victory tonight, after the Capitals had wiped out a 3-0 deficit.

Those first three goals were recorded by Pat LaFontaine, the man whose shot at 68:47 of extra time ended the Capitals' 1986-87 season on a sad, sad note in April.

LaFontaine also assisted on Lauer's winner for a four-point night. He took a drop pass from Alan Kerr and shot wide, but the puck caromed off the rear boards to Lauer, who whacked it in off the stick of goalie Clint Malarchuk.

"I figured both those guys were going for the net, so I fired it," LaFontaine said. "I was looking for a rebound or something to happen and it did. The puck bounced right back to Brad and he put it in."

New York goalie Kelly Hrudey, who stopped 73 Washington shots the last time out, turned back 34 tonight as Washington outshot the Islanders, 37-28. Larry Murphy had two goals for the Capitals, Dave Christian the other.

Scott Stevens, playing his 400th NHL game, assisted on all three goals as he, Murphy and Christian earned three points apiece. But Stevens left with mixed emotions, because it was his lunge forward and subsequent failure to pick off the puck that allowed LaFontaine, Kerr and Lauer to mount the decisive three-on-two against Murphy and Kelly Miller.

"At least we should have had a tie," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "There's no way they should have had an opportunity like that in overtime.

"But this should be a positive thing -- it had better be positive. If we can't build on this, there must be something wrong with us. It didn't look like we'd ever catch anybody in the first period, but then we took the body and got involved. It's not going to be acceptable to play otherwise."

The Capitals take a three-game losing streak into Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh. Should the Penguins win, they would tie Washington for third place in the Patrick Division.

The Islanders, who remain deadlocked with New Jersey for first place, blew a third-period lead for the third consecutive game. But for the second straight time, they pulled out the overtime decision.

"Overtime is like a crapshoot," said New York Coach Terry Simpson. "You try to roll the right dice, but it's going to go both ways."

The Capitals are beginning to wonder when. This was a bitter blow for those players who still wake up in the middle of the night watching LaFontaine put the puck behind Bob Mason.

Except for the fact that the man in the Washington net tonight was Clint Malarchuk, the first 24 minutes tonight offered what amounted to three instant replays of that fourth-overtime crusher. LaFontaine posted a hat trick, two of the goals coming on power plays, and Hrudey stopped the first 14 shots that came his way, several in sensational fashion.

LaFontaine's first goal came on a clever power-play move that saw him lure Stevens down before he cut in front and fired the puck under the scrambling Malarchuk's left skate. Christian was the man in the box, serving his first penalty in 44 games.

LaFontaine made it 2-0 on a breakaway after Lauer bounced the puck off the side boards. Then he converted Brent Sutter's pass from behind the goal line while Paul Cavallini was in the penalty box for holding.

"I got some great passes," said LaFontaine, whose only other NHL hat trick came against Toronto in his second NHL game in 1984. "I feel I'm working in sync with two other guys. The whole line has been playing very well.

"Going into overtime with the Capitals is sort of a repeat of what brought this team together. But it wasn't just the seventh game last year, it was the whole series. We had our backs to the wall and the overtime was the culmination of pulling out of it. After that, we've really been together as a team."

The Capitals finally began to look like a team in the second period. After Hrudey made an unbelievable stick save on Greg Adams while lying on his stomach, the Capitals continued to press and found themselves with a two-man advantage for 53 seconds, the result of overlapping penalties to Lauer and Brian Curran.

At that point, Murray called his timeout: "I told them this could be a turning point, that they had to get a good play at the net. We set up the way we'd do it. If we could do it every time like that, I'd suggest having four or five overtimes a game."

Murphy connected from the right-wing circle, off Christian's pass, for his first goal of the season.

Christian converted another power play early in the third period, the puck trickling through Hrudey's pads while he was screened by Dale Hunter.

With 9:09 left in regulation time, Murphy raced in to turn a routine two-on-two into a three-on-two, taking Christian's pass and beating Hrudey once again. It was the Capitals' first equal-strength score in three games.

The Capitals clearly had the momentum, but in the last 2 1/2 minutes of regulation, Hrudey foiled a breakaway by Peter Sundstrom, a tough drive by Stevens, a rebound by Mike Ridley and Mike Gartner's deflection of a drive by Murphy.

Washington 0 1 2 0 3 N.Y. Islanders 2 1 0 1 4

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, New York, LaFontaine 12, (Kerr, Konroyd), 2:19 (pp). 2, New York, LaFontaine 13 (Lauer, Jonsson), 13:17. PENALTIES -- Christian, Was (hooking), 1:16; Dalgarno, NY (holding), 3:52; Bassen, NY (hooking), 16:15.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 3, New York, LaFontaine 14 (Sutter, Flatley), 3:18 (pp). 4, Washington, Murphy 1 (Christian, Stevens), 6:02 (pp). PENALTIES -- Cavallini, Was (holding), 2:10; Lauer, NY (hooking), 4:35; Curran, NY (high-sticking), 5:42; Hatcher, Was (cross-checking), 14:59; Cavallini, Was (minor-major; instigator, fighting), 17:19; Dalgarno, NY (major, fighting), 17:19, Jonsson, NY (interference), 19:16; Kerr, NY (roughing), 19:59; Gartner, Was (roughing), 19:59.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Washington, Christian 7, (Stevens, Murphy), 1:12 (pp). 6, Washington, Murphy 2 (Christian, Stevens) 10:51. PENALTIES -- Wood, NY, (slashing), 7:52; Smith, Was, (slashing) 7:52.

OVERTIME SCORING -- 7, New York, Lauer 2 (LaFontaine, Kerr), 4:25. PENALTIES -- Laughlin, Was (holding), 3:45; Makela, NY (holding), 3:45.

Shots on goal: Washington 11 9 16 1 37 N.Y. Islanders 10 7 7 4 28

Power-play opportunities: Washington, 2 of 5; N.Y. Islanders, 2 of 4.

Goalies: Washington, Malarchuk (28 shots-24 saves). N.Y. Islanders, Hrudey (37-34).

A -- 13,692

Referee -- Andy Van Hellemond. Linesmen -- Wayne Bonney, Pat Dapuzzo.