The Washington Capitals continued their most confusing and frustrating streak in franchise history last night as they skated to a 3-3 tie against goalie Tom Barrasso and the Buffalo Sabres.

A goal by Washington's Mike Gartner, his 31st of the season and fifth in three games, tied the score 16:07 into the second period, but with a capacity crowd of 18,130 at Capital Centre, the two teams skated through a scoreless third period, then a scoreless overtime.

The tie dropped the Capitals into third place in the Patrick Division, and at 22-21-6 they're a point behind the second-place New York Islanders and six behind first-place Philadelphia.

But considering this series, even in this building, it wasn't all that bad of a night. The tie ran the Sabres' record against the Capitals to a mind-boggling 40-5-8. At Capital Centre, the Sabres hold a 19-2-5 edge and haven't lost to the Capitals here since Nov. 11, 1984.

"One point is better than none," Capitals Coach Bryan Murray said. "They played very well. I give them full marks. There have been times when they've put teams on the ice we should have beaten, but tonight they look like a team that has won nine of 12. They get the puck to their men on the move, and they use their speed very well. And Barrasso played very well."

Barrasso stopped 29 shots, including 12 in the second period when the Capitals banged the puck off the goal posts and all around the net.

"He's really good, isn't he?" Washington's Bob Gould said. "In the second period, we had some great chances to score. The thing about him is that he's so big and can cover post to post. When he goes down for a stop, he still doesn't leave a lot upstairs."

Meanwhile, Capitals' goalie Pete Peeters continued his recovery from a string of injuries, playing a second straight complete game. He stopped 21 shots, including seven in the first period.

The Capitals also got rookie Bill Houlder's first goal of his career and Gould's seventh of the season. Buffalo got goals from John Tucker, Mike Foligno and Christian Ruuttu.

"I thought we played very well," Buffalo Coach Ted Sator said. "Washington is one of the best teams, and we wanted to do the little things right tonight. We're happy with the point in this building."

Just before game time, the Capitals made a roster move, dropping Michal Pivonka (sore back) and suiting up Craig Laughlin instead. But as one young Capital spent the game in street clothes, another stepped forward. Houlder's first NHL at 16:39 of the first period gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead, which they held through the end of the period.

Houlder, 20, was Washington's fourth-round pick in 1985. He played his first three seasons at North Bay and was called up Nov. 29 from Fort Wayne and was playing his 24th game tonight. He got the goal by getting a past from Dave Christian on the left side and sailing a long slap shot under Barrasso's right leg. He celebrated by high-stepping back toward the center of the ice.

"I was so excited I didn't know what I was doing," Houlder said. "I think I might have twisted my knee. I probably won't do that again. It was a funny goal. I hit it while it was roling, and I think it curved in."

The Capitals scored first in the game, getting a goal at 6:45 of the first period when Peter Sundstrom skated down the right side and flicked a pass to Gould, who beat Barrasso. Sundstrom was credited with his 12th assist.

The Sabres tied it at 9:41 when Foligno kicked the puck off the boards from behind the Washington goal. It skidded away from Bengt Gustafsson and in front of the goal. Tucker got it, skated toward the goal and flipped it past Peeters.

The Capitals then took the lead on Houlder's goal and finished the first period by stopping the Sabres' power play.

But the Sabres scored twice in a 36-second stretch early in the second quarter for a 3-2 lead. Foligno got the first one, skating past Scott Stevens on the right side and handling the puck masterfully, flipping it first inside, then outside and past Peeters.

That one came 2:03 into the period, and 36 seconds later, Buffalo got the lead when Ruuttu got his 20th goal of the season by scooting a shot between Kevin Hatcher's skates.

The Capitals had their chances after that. They blew one power-play chance when, 43 seconds into it, Dale Hunter got a two-minute penalty for interference.

They missed on another when Uwe Krupp got a two-minute penalty for holding and Mike Ridley's wide-open shot in front of the net hit the left post.

On their fourth power play of the game and third of the period, Gartner tied it. The penalty came when the Sabres were caught with too many men on the ice during a line change.

At 16:07, Dale Hunter skated down the left side, passed the net and flipped it back out in front, where Gartner was waiting. He had gotten his 29th and 30th goals four days earlier, in his 48th game. That was the earliest in his career he hit the 30-goal plateau.

The Capitals finished the second period by killing all but 18 seconds of a Buffalo power play to keep the game tied, 3-3. Each team had a power-play chance in the third, but the defenses controlled the overtime period.

Islanders 3, Oilers 2:

In Uniondale, N.Y., Alan Kerr scored the tiebreaking goal at 7:39 of the third period, breaking the Islanders' streak of failure against the Oilers.

The Islanders were 0-6-4 in their last 10 regular season meetings with the Oilers since last beating them Feb. 7, 1984.