The New York Islanders jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first eight minutes last night at Capital Centre and frustrated fans of the Washington Capitals had to be wondering whether their heroes would ever beat the hated Islanders again.

Wonder of wonders, they did not have long to wait to obtain a positive answer. Moving in front less than six minutes later, the Capitals chased nemesis Bill Smith and went on to a decisive 6-2 victory, climbing into a tie with the Islanders for second place in the Patrick Division.

With Philadelphia losing at home against Calgary, the Capitals suddenly found themselves only four points behind the first-place Flyers. It was a complete turnabout for Washington, swept last weekend in back-to-back games by the Islanders and Rangers, the same teams the Capitals paid back on successive nights this week.

"We put ourselves in a tough position and made this into a must game," said Dave Christian, who scored twice for a season total of 29 goals. "We have so many divisional games that the opportunity to open up the spread is there, but if we don't go too well, we can lose a lot of ground. We came out flat tonight, but we got a couple of chances and scored, and turned it around in a hurry."

Michal Pivonka and Garry Galley chipped in with three-point games, the first this year for each, and Scott Stevens had a goal and an assist, besides playing an outstanding game on defense.

Goalie Pete Peeters stopped 24 shots to earn his 11th victory and the special teams were superb, clicking three times on the power play while skating off all seven New York advantages.

A crowd of 15,484 braved the bad weather to see Washington defeat the Islanders for the first time in four tries this season and seven games overall, counting the last three of the 1987 playoffs. Only 20 tickets were sold at the gate.

"These fans are great," Peeters said. "We weren't mentally ready for the first 10 minutes, but then we woke up and took it to them. It's nice to score some goals. We've been struggling, but with five last night and six tonight, things are picking up."

Derek King's rebound sent New York ahead after just 76 seconds and a fluky goal by Randy Wood, carried into the net by tangled teammate Rich Kromm and Capital Lou Franceschetti, made it 2-0.

Pivonka, playing with Christian and Bengt Gustafsson, was the key to Washington's fast comeback. He put a good move on defender Tomas Jonsson before drilling the puck between Smith's legs, then fed Christian in the slot for the goal that tied it.

"We've been together two games and we had good chances yesterday," Pivonka said. "I feel good, I feel I'm getting better, I'm getting more ice time and I'm playing the first three lines. I have more confidence, but I don't know why everything is going so good now."

A marvelous play by Mike Ridley, who wheeled out of a six-player tangle in the right wing corner and skated in to slip the puck under Smith, sent the Capitals ahead to stay 26 seconds after Christian tied it.

It was only 13:43 of the first period but Smith, who had been so brilliant a week ago against Washington, was headed to the bench, to be replaced by Kelly Hrudey.

It was an even earlier yanking than that accorded another Washington problem, John Vanbiesbrouck of the Rangers, who gave up four goals in 21 minutes 40 seconds of the Capitals' 5-3 win Thursday. And it was a even more delicious moment for the Capitals, beaten 24 times by Smith in regular season games, not to mention some devastating playoff setbacks.

"He's stoned us so many times, this was unusual," Christian said. "He seems to play so well against us. Maybe they wanted to change the momentum. They had it, then we got it."

New York Coach Terry Simpson admitted as much: "We needed to try to get something going."

Whatever, it didn't work.

Hrudey made four excellent saves while Washington enjoyed a two-man advantage for 63 seconds in the second period, but the frustrated Islanders kept taking penalties and the Capitals took advantage of three to pad their lead down the stretch.

New York defenseman Denis Potvin, who left late in the second period after twisting his left knee in a collision with Peter Sundstrom, said, "I'm disappointed. We should have been able to protect the lead. Things turned around so quickly."

The concluding goal was scored by Mike Gartner, his 33rd of the season and first in seven games.

"Nobody likes to go too long a stretch, especially a goal scorer," Gartner said. "Winning is most important, but you like to make an impact yourself, too."

Washington played without defenseman Rod Langway, who pulled a muscle in his right thigh Thursday in New York. With Larry Murphy, Greg Smith and Kevin Hatcher spending considerable time in the penalty box, both pressure and opportunity were the lot of Stevens, Galley and Grant Ledyard, the recent acquisition from the Los Angeles Kings, who made his Washington debut. All three played very well.

"I enjoy the ice time and I don't mind taking the responsibility," said Stevens, No. 1 star for the second straight night. "I seem to get along with the refs better, too."

Galley said, "It's been a long time since I had that much ice time. With Rod out and all the penalties early, I got a chance to play and it seemed that a lot of the time the puck was just sitting there for me to pick up. It was one of those times when everything was going my way."

Galley fought Bob Bassen in one of many confrontations, as Washington received 14 penalties for 37 minutes, New York 17 for 56. Bassen had bumped into Peeters, the second time the goalie was the victim of roving Islanders.

The first time, Peeters took an elbow in the ribs from Dale Henry, who immediately was challenged by Greg Smith. The two fought for a long time while Peeters, on his knees in the crease, went unnoticed.

"I was trying to get back to the net and I had my arms up," Peeters said. "Somebody {Henry} gave me a shot with an elbow."