WINNIPEG, MANITOBA, FEB. 18 -- The Washington Capitals' inconsistent play has forced Coach Bryan Murray to make many unpleasant decisions this season. Today, as the Capitals flew here following a tough, 4-3 triumph in New Jersey, Murray faced up to a dilemma of a less critical nature.

He was trying to decide which of his two goaltenders to start Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets. The problem was created not by dual ineptitude, but by the fact that each appears to be at the top of his game.

Pete Peeters leads all NHL goalies with a 2.62 goals-against mark and a .903 save percentage. When illness forced him out after one period Wednesday night, however, Clint Malarchuk provided relief to soothe the most critical coach.

Moments after he entered the game, Malarchuk made four excellent saves while the Devils skated with a two-man advantage for 91 seconds. Over his 40 minutes of work, Malarchuk stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn his first victory since Jan. 13.

"During their two-man power play, Clint made three or four great saves," Murray said. "In the second period, he was the difference. If he doesn't stand on his head, we're out of it.

"Clint's had to come in like that a few times. With maybe one exception, he's played very well. He works hard in practice, so even if he's not playing for a stretch, he's ready to play when I need him."

Peeters has required relief six times this season. The one occasion when Malarchuk was not up to the task came Nov. 28 in Pittsburgh. He was beaten on the first two shots he faced and yielded five goals in a 5-5 tie.

"They were all over me last night and I didn't have time to think about anything," Malarchuk said. "Actually, that's the way you like it, because you feel the puck right away, you get your confidence and you're right into the game.

"Of course, it can work the other way. That night in Pittsburgh, when the first two shots went in, I lost my confidence and I didn't seem to be doing anything right. When you come in cold, you don't know what to expect."

Peeters, who said that "after the first period, I felt like I'd played a whole game," was feeling better today. He also claimed to have felt better shortly after pulling himself from Wednesday's game, knowing Malarchuk was doing a superb job.

"Even though I felt awful, I stayed on the bench, because if Clint goes down, I have to go back in," Peeters said. "I was really happy for Clint when he came in and made all those stops right away."

Murray prefers to go with a hot goaltender, which left him in today's muddle. Malarchuk was torrid Wednesday, but Peeters has been solid over a long stretch.

"Pete has been on such a good streak, I'm hesitant to make much of a change," Murray said. "But there's no question that Clint did a heck of a job. It's something I've got to think about. At least, it's a positive situation, with both guys playing well. You don't like to look at it from the other point."

Murray also had a decision to make on defense, now that Rod Langway is back and obviously healthy. Langway, after missing two games with a strained thigh muscle, enjoyed an excellent game in New Jersey.

"Rod is such a tryer, such a game guy," Murray said. "It's nice to have him and Scott {Stevens} out there in tough defensive situations.

"I've liked the way {Grant} Ledyard and {Garry} Galley have been playing, so I wasn't concerned if Rod couldn't have played much. I would have been satisfied with 14 or 15 minutes. Of course, he played more than that and he played very, very strong."

Greg Smith was the man in the press box Wednesday and he could be there Friday, too, because Murray does not like to fiddle with a winning lineup.

The victory over the fifth-place Devils was vital in many ways. It opened a five-point spread between the teams, whereas a loss would have dropped Washington within one point of a nonplayoff spot. It also provided an upbeat beginning to the five-game road trip.

"We really needed that," said Stevens, who was on the ice for all four Washington goals, only one against. "Winning the first game on the trip gives you some confidence. It's tough to lose and then have two days to think about it. If we can get some points on the trip, we have 10 left at home and we'd be in pretty good shape."

Islanders 3, Flyers 3:

In Philadelphia, Ilkka Sinisalo's goal with 23 seconds remaining in regulation time gave the Flyers the tie with New York.

Sinisalo picked up a loose puck and stuffed it between the skates of goaltender Kelly Hrudey with goalie Ron Hextall on the bench in favor of an extra attacker, capping a comeback from a 3-1 deficit.

After a scoreless first period, the Islanders' Greg Gilbert scored his fourth goal in two games when he flipped the puck into an open net at 3:21 of the second period. Hextall came out to stop LaFontaine's slap shot and could not get back in time to stop Gilbert's sharp-angled drive on the rebound.

Philadelphia's Rick Tocchet tied the game at 6:08 with a power-play goal, beating Hrudey to the stick side from 10 feet out.

The Islanders went ahead, 2-1, when LaFontaine took a pass from Gilbert and beat Hextall high to the glove side from close-in.

Brad Lauer gave the Islanders a 3-1 lead when he stole the puck from defenseman Gordie Roberts deep in the Flyers' zone and beat Hextall with a short wrist shot at 7:00 of the final period.

The Flyers made it 3-2 just 15 seconds later when Murray Craven beat Hrudey with a high 45-foot slap shot.

Blues 7, Kings 4:

In St. Louis, Tony McKegney broke a 3-3 tie late in the second period and the Blues went on to beat Los Angeles.

Gino Cavallini had a goal and two assists as the Blues moved back over the .500 mark at 27-26-5, good for second place in the Norris Division.

Doug Gilmour earned his third assist of the night by setting up McKegney's 29th goal, a backhander that eluded Kings goaltender Glenn Healy at 14:54.

Brian Benning made it 5-3 with the Blues' third power-play goal of the game at 2:23 of the third period on a rising slap shot from the point.