That screeching sound coming from Landover this weekend was the formerly unbeatable Washington Capitals shifting into reverse in a way that makes mush out of transmissions.

Their talk-of-the-town winning streak went by the wayside Saturday night and they kept going in the other direction last night, falling to the Boston Bruins, 5-3, in front of 16,342 at Capital Centre.

The only good news for the Capitals was that defenseman Kevin Hatcher's left knee is not injured as badly as had been thought. He went down in a heap in the third period of Saturday night's 4-2 loss to Buffalo. Though it hurts, the knee has no ligament damage and Hatcher will try to skate today in practice.

Unlike Saturday night, when the Capitals never had the Buffalo Sabres in their rearview mirror, last night they did hold an edge over the Bruins. But as in the Buffalo loss, the Capitals had a dismal second period. They recovered enough from their early period malaise to forge a 3-3 tie going into the third. But Boston's Craig Janney scored with 2:18 gone in the third and the Capitals were done.

"We capitalized on some chances and then got that goal to give us the lead early in the third period," said former Capital Dave Christian, who scored a second-period goal. "We've been in so many of those games we're used to playing them."

The Adams Division, which the Bruins are leading, is known for tight-checking games in which teams lie in wait for little mistakes that they turn into points. Other than on Ray Burridge's goal into an empty net with 20 seconds left, that is what happened. The Sabres, who many think will win the Adams Division this season, played the same type of game. And that is the style that most playoff games reflect.

This is nothing new for the Bruins, who did the same thing to the Capitals last spring, sweeping them in the Wales Conference final. Though the Capitals beat the Bruins here in the exhibition season, this was the first meeting of substance since the playoffs. The last two victories in the Capitals' winning streak came against the Islanders and Quebec Nordiques. This weekend, the Capitals were stepping up in competition.

"Buffalo and Boston are somewhat near the top of their games," Capitals defenseman Bob Rouse said. "We felt we were. It shows we have to keep improving. Both games were close, but Buffalo and Boston found ways to win in those tight-checking games."

Both goalies played well, although the Bruins were more adept at clearing rebounds in front of Reggie Lemelin than the Capitals were in front of Mike Liut.

The Bruins' other two goals were provided by Chris Nilan and former Capital Bobby Carpenter. John Druce scored his 10th goal, which is tops on the Capitals. Steve Leach had one and, ironically, so did Joel Quenneville. He dressed for only the third time in 19 games, taking Hatcher's place. But points weren't expected from Quenneville, who had one goal last season in 44 games for Hartford.

"It felt good to score and felt good to be out there," he said. "It's too bad we lost."

Burridge drew two Capitals defensemen and dished to Nilan, who scored 2:57 into the game. Quenneville -- off one of two assists by Peter Bondra -- slapped a shot over Lemelin's left shoulder for a 1-1 tie with 9:52 left in the first period.

Steve Leach scored a power play goal with 1:56 left in the period to send the Capitals to the locker room with a 2-1 edge. It didn't take.

Carpenter scored 3:45 into the second and Christian went through a seam in the defense to score 62 seconds later for a 3-2 lead. Capitals Coach Terry Murray called time to impart some wisdom at high volume. It helped as the Capitals tied, 3-3, on Druce's goal.

But that was all the Capitals got. When Janney poked in the puck on his second try as it sat in the crease, the outcome was clear.


CAPITALS....2....1....0...3 FIRST PERIOD

Scoring: 1, Boston, Nilan 2 (Burridge, B.Sweeney), 2:57. 2, Washington, Quenneville 1 (Bondra, Druce), 10:08. 3, Washington, Leach 3 (Miller, Ridley), 18:04 (pp).

Penalties: B.Sweeney, Bos (high-sticking), 6:43; Byers, Bos (roughing), 10:32; Murray, Was (roughing), 10:32; Murray, Was (high-sticking), 13:08; Nilan, Bos (elbowing), 17:40.SECOND PERIOD

Scoring: 4, Boston, Carpenter 7 (Hodge, Wiemer), 3:45 (pp). 5, Boston, Christian 6 (Brickley), 4:47. 6, Washington, Druce 10 (Bondra, Langway), 10:57.

Penalties: Murray, Was, double minor (roughing, interference), 3:03; Lemelin, Bos, served by Burridge, (roughing), 3:03; Burridge, Bos (boarding), 6:53; Ruzicka, Bos (tripping), 13:03; Christian, Bos, misconduct, 13:03; Pivonka, Was (hooking), 13:12; Carpenter, Bos (slashing), 13:15; Tippett, Was (hooking), 13:18.THIRD PERIOD

Scoring: 7, Boston, Janney 4 (Wiemer, Byers), 2:18. 8, Boston, Burridge 4 (Bourque), 19:40 (en).

Penalty: May, Was (roughing), 20:00.SHOTS ON GOAL



Power-play opportunities: Boston 1 of 3; Washington 1 of 4.

Goalies: Boston, Lemelin, 5-2-1 (29 shots-26 saves); Washington, Liut, 7-6-0 (25-21).

A: 16,342; Referee: Rob Shick. Linesmen: Ryan Bozak, Mark Vines.