EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., DEC. 8 -- The Washington Capitals' nice little run came to an untidy halt tonight.

The New Jersey Devils scored four straight times to erase an early Washington lead and beat the Capitals, 4-2, in front of 13,300 at the Brendan Byrne Arena.

The Devils' victory snapped the Capitals' three-game winning streak and avenged Washington's 5-2 triumph Friday night at Capital Centre. It also pushed them ahead of the Capitals and into a tie with Philadelphia for second place in the Patrick Division.

"We worked hard {Friday} night, but we got a few dumb penalties and the special teams hurt us," said New Jersey's John MacLean, who scored one goal and set up another. "This time, we wanted to work that extra little bit."

In Friday's game, the Capitals scored twice on the power play and twice shorthanded. Tonight the penalty killers were perfect on both sides, though the Capitals did score soon after a man advantage.

Besides not getting much from the power play, which was ranked first in the NHL at the start of the day, the Capitals didn't do the little things that helped them win six of their previous eight games. They failed to clear rebounds in front of goalie Don Beaupre and left him exposed to odd-man rushes.

"They deserved it because they outworked us," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said. "If they score on great plays and pretty goals, then you can say they beat you on skill, but not if they just outwork you and score on tap-ins where the goalie doesn't have a chance."

For about 10 minutes during the first period, the Capitals controlled play. During that time, they took a 2-0 lead on goals by Kevin Hatcher and Steve Leach. But that was it offensively.

The Devils' Jon Morris scored before the end of the first period. Brendan Shanahan, MacLean and Doug Brown scored in the second period, which was enough for the Devils to remain unbeaten in their last six home games.

Besides losing, the Capitals may have lost Michal Pivonka for the next game, Tuesday against Philadelphia. Lee Norwood delivered a crunching check in the third period, which sent Pivonka limping off in a slight daze.

"He hit the knee from the inside," said Pivonka, who entered the game tied with Hatcher for the team scoring lead. He did walk out of the locker room to the team bus. "I don't think it will be a ligament, but it is getting stiff."

Two seconds after a power play expired, Hatcher scored for a 1-0 lead. It was the 12th goal of the season for Hatcher, who hasn't scored more than 14 in a season during his NHL career. Leach batted in a rebound for a 2-0 with 12:57 left in the first period.

That was all the Capitals got off Chris Terreri.

Washington let the puck bounce around near its net long enough for Morris to score with 5:06 left in the first.

Terreri made several excellent stops to thwart a Capitals power play at the start of the second and his team took off. MacLean fed a wide-open Shanahan for a 2-2 tie. Less than three minutes later, MacLean converted Peter Stastny's pass on a two-on-one break for a 3-2 edge. The Capitals killed a four-minute penalty, but not long after, Brown flipped in a rebound.

A small subplot to this game was some unpleasant, on-ice discussion between Devils Soviet defenseman Alexei Kasatonov and the Capitals' Soviet defenseman, Mikhail Tatarinov.

In the first period, Kasatonov came a long way to join a post-whistle scrum and push Tatarinov. In the second period, they exchanged a few more unpleasantries.

"It was just within the framework of the game," Kasatonov said through interpreter and strength coach Dimitri Lopuchin. "When Americans and Canadian guys do this, they don't ask these questions."

True, but Soviets are not known for their aggressive play, particularly against each other. Plus, there is some history involved.

"We played against each other," Tatarinov said through interpreter John Chapin. "There was always a lot of hitting between us."

When the final buzzer sounded, Kasatonov skated toward Tatarinov. Kasatonov told Tatarinov that they should meet afterward "under friendly conditions." They spoke briefly and shook hands.

But at the time, the other players weren't sure. Dale Hunter, who has seen a scrap or two in his day, moved to head off Kasatonov as he approached at the end of the game.

"I couldn't tell what they were saying," Hunter said with a laugh. "Both teams were sort of just watching to see what would happen."