In a bizarre and dramatic change, brother replaced brother yesterday as the Washington Capitals fired Bryan Murray -- the only coach in the history of the franchise to take the team to the playoffs -- and hired Terry Murray, who has been the coach of the team's farm club in Baltimore.

General Manager David Poile made the announcement last evening with tears welling in his eyes.

"I'm as big a believer in Bryan Murray as anybody," Poile said. "We didn't get rid of a bad person or a lousy coach. We made a change and went in a different direction.

"It's a cliche' to say we made a change for change's sake. But things weren't going well. We have the fourth-worst record in the NHL. We are 20{th} out of 21 on the power play. Not one of our players is near the top of the leaders in scoring. Our strength used to be our goals-against average. But we're in the second half of the league in goals against. There is not one thing we can hang our hat on."

Neither Terry nor Bryan Murray attended the news conference.

Bryan Murray, 47, has coached the Capitals since November 1981 and amassed a 343-246-83 record. He had guided the Capitals to the playoffs in the seven full seasons he was coach, though the team never went past the second round.

This year, the team was struggling for much of the fall, yet was tied for first place late in December. Then came the current eight-game losing streak, which some would attribute to the loss to injury of defensemen Rod Langway and Scott Stevens.

"I wouldn't say it was unfair," Murray said by phone from his home, referring to the circumstances of his firing. "We stayed on for another year to have another shot. We got a lot of new faces. We got to first place and then the injuries killed us. I was treated, overall, very fairly, given my longevity. Abe Pollin gave me a chance to coach in the NHL and for that I am grateful."

On Thursday of last week, club owner Pollin expressed support for Murray. Two more losses followed, including an embarrassing defeat at home to Pittsburgh. Pollin, who did not attend the news conference, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Poile said he met over the weekend with Pollin and Capitals President Dick Patrick. Then came another meeting yesterday morning. "I requested the meeting and I outlined what I thought and {Pollin} concurred with what I said," Poile said.

After last season's first-round playoff loss to Philadelphia, Bryan Murray was given a new two-year contract, which will have to be honored. Poile said that Terry Murray will also have a two-year deal.

Terry Murray, 39, played with four NHL teams, including the Capitals, and spent six seasons as an assistant to his brother with the Capitals. He was in his second season coaching the Skipjacks, currently 26-17-1 in the American Hockey League's Southern Division. The Skipjacks were in Newmarket, Ontario, yesterday when Poile said he called Terry to inform him of his decision to fire Bryan and offer Terry the job. Poile said Terry Murray was his "one and only choice."

Terry Murray was on his way back from Newmarket last night and will be behind the bench when the Capitals face the New Jersey Devils tonight at 7:35 at Capital Centre. He could not be reached for comment.

"A tremendous pause," Poile said of Terry's initial reaction. "I'm sure he was hoping for a better time or for better circumstances. But when we talked it out, he said, 'This is what I've been preparing my hockey life for,' and then said, 'Yes, I'll accept.' "

As of early last night, the two brothers had not spoken to each other, according to Bryan Murray. But if there was any sibling rivalry, he wasn't letting on.

"I certainly think that's a good choice and not only because he's my brother," Bryan Murray said. "He did a hell of a job as an assistant here and he's done very well in Baltimore. He's very deserving."

This pivotal day in Capitals' history started as most nongame days do. The team practiced in the late morning at Mount Vernon, trying to come up with solutions and explanations for their losing streak. Murray was told of his firing after practice and some players were notified but not all heard the news.

"I'm shocked," said Kelly Miller, acting captain in the absence of Langway and Stevens.

Among the Capitals' problems this year was a shortage of scoring, though Dino Ciccarelli was about on pace for his usual 40-goal season.

"I never had a coach that had the desire to win that he does," Ciccarelli said of Bryan Murray. "He's the type of coach I'd be if I was a coach -- he's very intense and he hates to lose."

On Terry Murray taking over, Stevens said: "He's very knowledgeable. He knows the game and he knows what it's about. He's been with the organization and a lot of players know him and respect him. He was a defender and he helped me a lot with my defense when I was coming into the league."

Poile acknowledged that his discussion with Bryan Murray was not the longest in their eight-year relationship.

"It was uncomfortable," Poile said, adding that in a day or so he hoped to talk with Bryan Murray about what the future might hold for him. As for assistant coaches Doug MacLean and Rob Laird, they were due to meet today with Terry Murray.

Poile tried to stress that though the surname has remained the same, the styles and philosophies will not be the same.

"If you make the comparison between Bryan and Terry just because they are brothers, you would be very remiss," Poile said. "They are not very much alike at all in terms of mannerisms and coaching philosophy. They are two substantially different people."

Whatever the difference, whatever the changes that have made the Capitals a much younger team from last season, Terry Murray faces the task of taking a last-place team to the playoffs and beyond. Poile said his decision was based mostly on 46 games, not the last eight. But Bryan Murray's playoff record was not ignored.

"The expectations for the Washington Capitals are very high," Poile said. "The Washington Capitals won the Patrick Division championship last year. The expectations were great then. The expectations are still great."

Staff writer Robert Fachet and correspondent Steven Goff contributed to this report.