Oilers 5, Capitals 3

-- What had been an almost flawless performance for the Washington Capitals disintegrated rapidly tonight. A relentless defensive effort waned on the final shift of the second period, the Edmonton Oilers scored 15 seconds before the second intermission and dominated the third period in their 5-3 victory at Skyreach Centre.

The Capitals, who are prone to late-period breakdowns, fell three points behind Tampa for the Southeast Division lead and let this game slip away after a terrific start, with goalie Olaf Kolzig clearly frustrated in net.

"It was disappointing in the third period because all the things we did in November and December to make us a mediocre hockey club turned up again," Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I can't understand our maturity level in the third period."

Kolzig was rarely tested until midway through the game, and Edmonton broke through on its last attempt of the second period. The play began when Jeff Halpern was thrown out of the faceoff circle and his replacement, Mike Grier, lost the draw in Edmonton's zone. The Oilers worked the puck up ice quickly, Kolzig could not corral Ethan Moreau's shot and rookie Fernando Pisani swept in the rebound a moment before Kolzig could cover the puck, tying the game.

"We were in pretty good control of the game and then we had a breakdown at the end of the second period that cost us big time," Grier said. "They got some momentum . . . and we were awful in our own end in the third period. We didn't help Olie at all."

Kolzig was pelted with shots early in the third period and made a series of acrobatic saves, including one on Marty Reasoner from point-blank range. But defenseman Jean-Francois Fortin did not protect that rebound, another scramble ensued and Pisani fired through traffic to give Edmonton its first lead. Washington countered 33 seconds later when Jason Doig's shot from the blueline sneaked into the net.

Edmonton stormed right back. Kolzig was screened again when Pisani's line took its next shift. Moreau spun from behind the goal and fired blindly to the near side, and the goaltender never saw the puck enter the net.

Kolzig made three thrilling saves on Ryan Smyth to keep his team in the game, but goalie Tommy Salo responded with heroics of his along the goal line and Mike Comrie scored with 100 seconds to play to provide a two-goal lead. Washington's Brendan Witt scored with 1:01 to play, but Pisani, 26, who was recalled from the minors in January, completed his first hat trick to put the game away.

The Capitals were treated to some extraordinary hospitality before this game began, as the crowd roared throughout the signing of the national anthem, a hearty response to incidents of booing the "Star-Spangled Banner" in Montreal. Washington went on to play its best period of hockey in this arena in years -- it has not won here since 1996.

Countless forwards hustled back to break up passing plays and the Capitals repeatedly disrupted Edmonton's attempts to move the puck in the middle of the ice. Cassidy did a fine job of juggling his personnel, getting his fourth line players Brian Sutherby, an Edmonton native playing here for the first time, and Josh Green, a former Oiler, shifts with top lines and budgeting ice time adroitly. Cassidy also maintained his two new defensive pairs, which give the club more depth and balance as well.

Washington's new-look power play took advantage of its only opportunity in a crisp opening period to provide the lead. A man advantage that began with sloppy play changed the instant Dainius Zubrus came off the bench. Zubrus split the defense, held off burly Eric Brewer and chipped the puck past Salo with about three minutes left in the period.

Capitals Notes: Winger Peter Bondra played his 900th NHL game tonight, all with Washington, becoming the third player in franchise history to play 900 games for the team. . . .

Winger Jaromir Jagr, who has missed two weeks with a broken bone in his wrist, practiced today without a cast and said he expects to return to the lineup sometime during this six-game road trip, which concludes next Saturday. Jagr said his wrist is still weak and he is unable to shoot properly, which will likely keep him from playing Sunday in Vancouver.

"The doctors said it could take six weeks to heal, and it has only been two weeks," Jagr said. "But I think I can play on this trip." . . .

Winger Kip Miller [hand] returned after missing seven games, but winger Steve Konowalchuk was unable to play. Konowalchuk has a laceration on the top of his foot that prevented him from being able to push off when he attempted to skate today. He will try to skate again today but might have to miss Sunday's game as well. . . .

Defenseman Ken Klee was fined $1,000 for his hit on Calgary's Jarome Iginla Thursday night.

Jason Doig is sent flying by Oilers' Georges Laraque. Caps fell 3 points behind Tampa for Southeast Division lead.