CLEARLY, THE BELOVED Caps of hockey belong in this town, where the fans are rallying as never before to keep their team. Owner Abe Pollin, himself a most local person, surely knows the intensity of this spirit--coming as it does from a strong sense of civic pride. But on the ice as on the books, a hockey team needs good checks, up front.

After eight years, Mr. Pollin's supplies of patience and red ink are both near exhaustion. Still, he is not alone in continuing to believe that Washington should be a major-league city in every respect. Unless serious financial help is forthcoming quickly, however, the Caps will die or disappear, joining the ghosts of the Washington Senators I and II of baseball, the Dips I and II of soccer and the basketball and soccer teams organized earlier that also failed.

So what can people do? To impress Mr. Pollin-- which they are doing through their efforts--as well as to attract additional investors in a local future for the team, fans have formed a Save the Caps Committee. Already, Mr. Pollin says he has received hundreds of letters and phone calls urging that the Caps be kept alive, and more no doubt would help. In a letter published in Sunday's Sports section, booster Steve Mehlman made some concrete suggestions, including calling for more public requests to Mr. Pollin that he "do all he can" to keep big-league hockey here.

Recalling the citizen rescue of football's falling Redskins in the late 1940s and '50s, Mr. Mehlman also is urging businesses to purchase blocks of season tickets --now, when it needs to show. And the committee has a way for fans to help the cause, one way or another: the D.C. Special Olympics has established a "Save the Caps" fund. Tax-deductible contributions will be used by the Special Olympics, located at 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW., to purchase season tickets. The tickets, in turn, either would be given to Special Olympics athletes or used to raise funds.

As Mr. Pollin has said, Washington could be "one of the great franchises" in the National Hockey League--once the city has a team that the fans can be proud of. That can't happen while the Caps are skating on thin financial ice; an all-out show of local support can turn things around. But it has to happen fast.