The New York Islanders visited Capital Centre last night for the first time since they broke the Washington Capitals' hearts in that four-overtime marathon in April. The Islanders won again, but this time the crowd got to leave early.

Many of the 16,523 were streaming out by the midpoint of the third period, after the Islanders scored three goals in a span of 3 minutes 18 seconds to assure a 6-4 victory.

Mikko Makela netted two of the three to complete his first NHL hat trick. But it was Patrick Flatley who broke a 3-3 tie not long after Dale Hunter had finally pulled Washington even.

Hunter's rebound after 56 seconds of the third period marked the seventh straight game in which the Capitals had recorded two power-play goals. It also appeared to give them momentum.

That quickly turned around, as the result of one of many strange bounces of the puck. Brent Sutter shot from a difficult angle at the right of Washington goalie Clint Malarchuk. The puck struck the near post and caromed into the slot, where Flatley whacked it home.

The Capitals had a chance to tie it again when Hunter and Mike Gartner mounted a two-on-one. But goaltender Bill Smith, a lifelong Washington nemesis, dove out to block Hunter's cross-crease pass and turn the play around.

Suddenly, it was two-on-one the other way, with Makela and Bryan Trottier against Scott Stevens. Makela took Trottier's pass and, with Malarchuk expecting a shot by Trottier, the Finn had plenty of room to score.

"The overall game was very loose," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "There's no way it should be a six-goal game against us in our building. We finally get even, then they get ahead and after we have a chance, they score on a two-on-one. Makela can shoot the puck and Trottier can pass the puck. They're a dangerous pair."

With Washington's Garry Galley in the penalty box, Makela converted an Alan Kerr pass for the Islanders' third extra-man score of the game. Greg Adams then concluded the scoring with 2:08 left, stuffing the puck past Smith from behind.

Makela's hat trick was the second yielded by the Capitals this season. The other was recorded by Pat LaFontaine when the Islanders won, 4-3, at Nassau Coliseum in the teams' only previous meeting.

"I have to play better defensively, improve my backchecking," Makela said. "I didn't play that well tonight; I just happened to get two or three goals. But I have confidence now and I have Trottier on my line. He can take three guys and make a pass and I'm all alone because everyone is after him."

Makela mentioned "two or three" goals because Trottier claimed to have tipped the puck on a first-period Makela shot before it crossed the goal line. After extensive viewing of the replays, however, official scorer Park Anderson awarded the goal to Makela.

This was an admirable effort by the Islanders, coming on the heels of a 7-1 triumph in Pittsburgh. It solidified their grip on first place in the Patrick Division and moved them 11 points ahead of third-place Washington. Still, Coach Terry Simpson was unexcited.

"We've been getting some breaks, scoring some goals and getting good goaltending," Simpson said. "But we have a lot of work to do with this team. Realistically, when you look at our division, there figures to be a dogfight to the end for the four playoff positions. It started that way and it will probably end that way. We're on top now, but things change quickly in hockey."

One thing that has changed recently is Smith's contribution to the club. A week away from his 37th birthday, Smith figures strictly as a backup for Kelly Hrudey. However, Hrudey has been ill, so Simpson has started Smith in three straight games and he obviously has not lost his touch.

"I think I'm playing well," Smith said. "They got two fluky goals tonight, but I don't think I need to apologize for the night's work."

The Capitals jumped in front when Michal Pivonka's centering pass out of the left-wing corner struck the skate of defenseman Ken Leiter and caromed behind Smith.

Washington was forcing the play when Peter Sundstrom skated through the crease and Smith, in raising his stick in self-defense, jarred Sundstrom and was called for interference. Smith, who never left the crease, pointed toward Telscreen in the hope that the replay would vindicate him, but it never was shown.

Then, 10 seconds into the power play, the Islanders scored a shorthanded goal. Rich Kromm's long shot got past Malarchuk, struck the crossbar and rebounded into the slot, where Sutter swept it home.

"I think that was justice there," Smith said. "How much farther back in the net can I get? If I don't put my stick up, he can run me through the goalpost. I had to put my hands up to protect myself."

Washington was playing without injured defensemen Rod Langway and Greg Smith and quickly found itself a lot shorter, as Scott Stevens and Kevin Hatcher were penalized 35 seconds apart.

During the two-man advantage, a Denis Potvin drive struck LaFontaine and caromed to Makela, alone near the right post for an easy tapin.

Before Hatcher returned, New York had taken a 3-1 lead, as Gerald Diduck's drive from the left-wing boards struck Washington's Bengt Gustafsson and caromed into the net.

"We played very well early, not giving them many chances, but just when you have things in order, you give up a shorthanded goal and then go two men down and give up two more," Murray said. "We really had things our way {the shots were 11-2 after 10 minutes}, but they didn't stay that way long."

Gustafsson's third goal in two games, with Brad Lauer off for holding, lifted Washington within a goal 47 seconds before the first period ended.

Smith had a terrible time during a second-period penalty to Potvin. A shot by Gustafsson caught him in the left shoulder and he was virtually helpless while play continued. Then Dave Christian lined a shot that struck the crossbar, came straight down and skittered away. Christian argued long and loud over that one, but referee Andy Van Hellemond was in perfect position to make the call.

Hunter finally tied it early in the third period, after Gartner's deflection of a shot by Larry Murphy wound up at his feet. Hunter, pulled down by Steve Konroyd after he shot, even managed to land a punch on Smith's head. But it was a last hurrah.

Red Wings 12, Blackhawks 0:

Tim Higgins scored three goals as Detroit, playing at home, extended its NHL winning streak to five games with the rout of Chicago, the worst margin of defeat in Blackhawks history.

The loss, which tied the Blackhawks record for goals allowed in a game, extended the team's winless road streak to 13 -- 0-12-1.

Steve Yzerman added a pair of goals and Brent Ashton had one and two assists as the Red Wings (13-9-2) handed Chicago (10-14-2) its fifth straight defeat.

Higgins, a 10-year NHL veteran who hadn't scored since March 17 of last season, got his first goal 24 seconds into the game to start a burst in which the Red Wings scored three times in the first 1:48 and six times in the opening period.