The Washington Capitals looked fine for a period, so-so for another and then disappeared completely in the third, which is also when their victory evaporated.

The Winnipeg Jets scored four times in the third period to beat the Capitals, 4-2, last night in front of 17,923 at Capital Centre.

"They outworked us and we sat there and watched them," defenseman Al Iafrate said, summing up the last period, and thus, the game.

Calle Johansson and Mike Ridley scored in the first period to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead, which they carried into the third period. Don Beaupre, making his fifth straight start in goal, played another excellent game but the folks in front of him didn't come through for him.

Winnipeg's Mark Osborne and Thomas Steen scored in the first seven minutes of the third period. Then, after one of several third-period giveaways by Mikhail Tatarinov (he wasn't alone, though), Osborne scored his second of the night with 60 seconds left. Brent Ashton completed the run with an empty-net goal with four seconds left.

"We keep turning it over and it ends up in the net," Beaupre said.

This clearly was a game the Capitals should have won. But they are struggling: They needed overtime to beat the Patrick Division's last-place Islanders on Thursday and they botched this one against the Jets, who are fourth in the Smythe.

"They outworked us," Capitals Coach Terry Murray said of the final period. "They turned it up to another level and we weren't keeping up at all."

The Jets are a fast team, but Murray wasn't talking about speed. He was talking about effort and intensity.

"Yeah, that was the difference," Kelly Miller said of the first period compared with the third.

In the first period, the Capitals had a 16-6 edge in shots. Jets goalie Bob Essensa had more work, but Beaupre had to make harder stops.

"It wouldn't have been 2-0 if it wasn't for Don Beaupre," Iafrate said.

After several Capitals misses, Johansson scored with Ed Olczyk draped on him for his eighth goal and a 1-0 lead with 7:35 left in the first period. While shorthanded, Miller fired a shot at Essensa (a former teammate at Michigan State), which was kicked out. But the Jets didn't cover Ridley, who scored on the rebound for a 2-0 lead with 2:08 left.

The second period was scoreless, but the Jets had a 8-5 edge in shots and were playing better in their own end, moving the puck as the Capitals were not.

"It's just trying to stick to a game plan," Winnipeg Coach Bob Murdoch said. "It's knowing you can't score three goals on one shift. But as soon as you get one it gives you an emotional lift. Thomas then scores a big goal and we controlled the game after that."

With the third period not yet two minutes old, Osborne was left alone in front of the net and scored off Olczyk's feed from behind.

It went from 2-1 to 2-2 with just 6:55 gone. Tatarinov made a weak clearing pass to just outside the blueline. Steen took it from Ridley and blasted a slap shot from the slot into a high corner.

It looked as if the Capitals would have a fifth straight overtime game, but Beaupre could bail them out for only so long. Moments after yet another failed clearing pass, Olczyk re-routed the puck into the slot. Tatarinov cross-checked Dave McLlwain into the net. As the net was coming off the magnets, Osborne scored. A new rule this year allows the referee to credit a goal when it would have been scored had a defender not knocked the net off its moorings. Tatarinov was then given a 10-minute misconduct penalty for bumping referee Kerry Fraser.

"We should have won the game," Tatarinov said through interpreter John Chapin. "They smoked us in the third period."

Capitals Notes:

Captain Rod Langway skated yesterday morning for the first time since Jan. 11, when he developed back spasms that have sidelined him 11 games.

"It's real sore right now," Langway said just before the game. "It's frustrating more than anything else."

Langway is trying different medication that takes a couple of days to reach its full effect. Part of his frustration is that there have been days when Langway thought he was improving, only to have a relapse. The other part is that Langway knows his team is struggling to make the playoffs.

"We're fighting for a playoff spot," he said. "It's not being with the guys or even being able to stay in shape."

Langway, 33, was playing well when he left the lineup, and Murray would very much like to have him back. If the pain subsides, it probably would take a week for Langway to get back into playing condition. He is planning to skate again this morning, but he adds, "If I can get out of bed." . . .

John Kordic was scratched from the lineup. Peter Bondra returned after watching from the press box Thursday. . . . Dino Ciccarelli has 399 goals. . . . New York Rangers Coach Roger Nielson, whose team will play the Jets tonight, watched from the press box. Normally the Rangers would have picked up the game via cable or satellite, but it was not telecast here or in Winnipeg.