When the Washington Capitals needed a star last spring, John Druce stepped up and earned a place for himself in the heavens.

Last night, the Capitals arrived at Capital Centre looking like something NASA had scuttled. But they ended up jettisoning a three-game losing streak as Druce scored two goals to lead them to a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders in front of 14,164.

Druce already was the leading scorer on the team with seven points, but his only previous goal had come nine days before in a game in New York against the Rangers.

Kevin Hatcher got his first goal of the season and added two assists. The second came on Mike Ridley's game-winning goal that broke a 3-3 tie with 9:29 left in the third period.

All four Capitals goals came on the power play. Goalie Mike Liut stopped 23 of 26 shots (including a breakaway) and evened his record at 3-3.

"I felt really good," Druce said. "On the first goal, I just put the puck on the net and it went in. On the next one, I just jumped on the rebound and it seemed like the same old thing. I've had a few opportunities this year that hadn't gone in and finally two went in."

The victory lifted the Capitals out of last place in the Patrick Division, with the Islanders assuming that distinction. With Pittsburgh tying Buffalo, the Capitals still are in just fifth place. But, besides losing three straight, they had also been 0-4 in the division.

Tonight, they must play the New Jersey Devils -- who beat them Wednesday night, 3-2 -- at Capital Centre.

"More important than the power play is winning a game in the division," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "We were doing the little things that led to success."

The Islanders' David Volek scored twice and fed Randy Wood for New York's other goal. But the Islanders were undone by the Capitals' power play.

"Our penalty-killing has been fairly good, but {last night} it was nonexistent," Islanders Coach Al Arbour said of the unit that was ranked 14th before tonight. Last season, the Islanders were 17th in that category.

The Capitals were three for six on the power play in the season-opening loss to Pittsburgh, but they had been three for 24 in the five games before last night. For the record, the team record for power-play goals in a game is seven.

"It's an exception, of course," said Ridley, who now has four goals. "We're not going to score four goals all the time, but the power play did a good job and was a big factor."

The Islanders were without injured star Pat LaFontaine and goalies Mark Fitzpatrick and Glenn Healy. Jeff Hackett had played well for them in three previous games (2.25 GAA coming in), but he faced too many power plays last night.

On the first, Hubie McDonough knocked the puck away from Hatcher, but it went right to Druce, who blasted it home for a 1-0 lead with 11:08 left in the first period.

Volek took the puck from Peter Bondra along the boards and scored unassisted with 1:24 gone in the second. Then with just 3:41 gone -- on the Islanders' only power play of the night -- Volek fed Wood for a 2-1 lead.

"The power-play goal they earned," Liut said. "The first one, I wasn't happy with."

Druce squared things, though. Hackett stopped Michal Pivonka's slap shot, but Dale Hunter tied up defenseman Craig Ludwig and Druce flipped in the rebound with 8:25 gone in the second.

Hatcher played his best game of the season. He dropped down and pushed the puck in after a cross-ice pass by Pivonka for a 3-2 lead.

"I picked my spots better," Hatcher said.

Volek rerouted Greg Parks's pass for a 3-3 tie early in the third, but Hatcher made the play to win it.

The Capitals' last power play resulted from a high-sticking melee involving Hunter and Gary Nylund, who was given a game misconduct. Hatcher stepped around Bill Berg and threw the puck at the net, with Ridley deflecting it by Hackett.

Murray may not want to mess with a winning combination. When asked if Liut would start in goal against the Devils, he said only: "I know that if Page 1 and Page 2 of the coaching manual will be out quickly if I make a change."

He was jokingly referring to his comments during the New Jersey series last spring when Devils coach John Cunniff changed goalies after a victory.

Whoever starts tonight, the Capitals don't want to begin a five-game western road trip with another loss to the Devils.

"I hope we don't get content and sit back with a win," Druce said. "We need to win a few in a row and get the momentum going. That would carry over for the long haul."