They gave up one goal on an unlucky bounce, and another after they were caught with too many men on the ice. In a close division race, the Washington Capitals had known little storms might lead to big floods, and they did last night in a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders before 16,388 at Capital Centre.

The Capitals (24-24-6) could have taken over second place in the Patrick Division. Instead, they got sole possession of fourth and remained six points behind the first-place Philadelphia Flyers.

They entered the game tied for third with the Islanders but New York got two goals from Brad Lauder and one each from Greg Gilbert and Bryan Trottier for a sixth straight victory over Washington.

The Capitals got goals from Dale Hunter and Dave Christian and were in the game until Lauder scored 17:52 into the third period to break open a 3-2 game.

In some ways, they were lucky to stay close so long because the Islanders had eight power plays and a 28-17 edge in shots in the first two periods.

"There's no question that mistakes are just killing us," Capitals Coach Bryan Murray said. "They got an early goal that bounced off one of our skates, and after that there were power-play situations. It's important because playing in our division means every game is a four-point swing."

It may have hurt the Capitals, but it won't hurt long because they have to return to Capital Centre Saturday night to play the New York Rangers. That's their last game before the all-star break, and as Washington's Scott Stevens said, "In our situation, you've got to win home games. This is an important one; no question about it."

Last night was important, too, and it didn't take the Capitals long to get into trouble. Gilbert was credited with his ninth goal 2:29 into the first period, but he had more than a bit of help.

The play began when the Capitals' Peter Sundstrom fell behind his net and lost the puck. Gilbert skated behind the net and flipped a shot from behnd the left post. There was no New Yorker near the puck as it skidded in front of the goal, but it bounced off the skate of Washington's Bob Gould and popped into the net.

The Capitals tied the game, 1-1, 8:31 into the period when Hunter got his 16th goal this season. It came on a power play after Tomas Jonsson was called for holding at 7:26. The goal came when Stevens slapped a shot from the left side. The puck never got to goalie Billy Smith. Instead, it ricocheted off the stick of Washington's Michal Pivonka and toward Hunter on the right side.

Hunter got the puck in stride and tied the game.

The Islanders then failed to score on two power plays, but this night there were too many chances. It was their fourth of the game that put them ahead to stay. Washington goalie Pete Peeters was called for unsportsmanlike conduct 16:18 into the first period, and 46 seconds later the Islanders scored.

While Yvon Corriveau served the penalty, Trottier got his 18th goal on a pass from Mikko Makela in the right corner. For Trottier, the 18th-highest goal scorer in NHL history, it was his first goal in nine games.

Each team had a goal in the second period, but the scoring doesn't reflect the play. The Islanders outshot the Capitals by 15-8, primarily because they had five power plays.

They took advantage of the first, scoring six minutes into the period after the Capitals were called for having too many men on the ice.

Lauer scored the goal, his 10th, at the end of two bang-bang passes, one from Jonsson to Steve Konroyd and another from Konroyd.

"They {the Islanders} had eight men on the ice when the penalty was called," Murray said, "and I thought it was being called on them. I don't know why we were the ones that got picked out. But that was the way the first two periods went. It was just tough for us to get anything going."

Of the penalty against Peeters, Murray said: "It wasn't really against Peeters. He {Dave Newell} just said he didn't want to hear anymore."

Still, the Capitals closed to 3-2 13:41 into the second period. Christian did it with his 26th goal, taking Hunter's pass in front of the net.

The Capitals finished a furious third period with a 17-5 lead in shots, but it was the Islanders who scored the goal. Lauer got it on a breakaway 17:52 into the period.

"You've got to win a few of the battles to win the war," the Capitals' Mike Gartner said.

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

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, New York, Gilbert 9, 2:29. 2, Washington, Hunter 16 (Pivonka, Stevens), 8:31 (pp). 3, New York, Trottier 18 (Makela), 17:04 (pp). PENALTIES -- Adams, Was (slashing), 5:12; Jonsson, NY (hooking), 7:26; Hatcher, Was (high-sticking), 9:15; Dineen, NY (holding), 12:21; Gustafsson, Was (tripping), 13:09; Peeters, Was, served by Corriveau (unsportsmanlike conduct), 16:18; Sutter, NY, minor-major (slashing, fighting), 17:24; Franceschetti, Was, major (fighting), 17:24.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 4, New York, Lauer 10 (Konroyd, Jonsson), 6:00 (pp). 5, Washington, Christian 26 (Hunter, Stevens), 13:41. PENALTIES -- Washington bench, served by Franceschetti (too many men on ice), 5:08; Hatcher, Was (cross-checking), 7:56; Franceschetti, Was (slashing), 10:35; Sutter, NY (high-sticking), 12:45; Langway, Was (high-sticking), 12:45; Pivonka, Was (holding), 14:10.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 6, New York, Lauer 11 (Potvin), 17:52. PENALTIES -- Potvin, NY (holding), :21; Bassen, NY (roughing), 8:40; Franceschetti, Was (roughing), 8:40; Gilbert, NY (interference), 10:48.

Shots on goal: New York 13 15 5 33 Washington 9 8 17 34

Power-play Opportunities -- New York 2 of 8; Washington 1 of 5.

Goalies -- New York, Smith (34 shots-32 saves). Washington, Peeters (33-29).

A -- 16,388.

Referee -- Dave Newell. Linesmen -- Ron Finn, Dan McCourt.