The Washington Capitals drove the New York Islanders to distraction and a record Nassau Coliseum crowd of 15,317 to damnation tonight. But in the end the Capitals were filled with the frustration of a 2-1 defeat.

A mistake by veteran defenseman Bryan Watson was responsible for the defeat. Watson fired a blind cross-ice pass that was intercepted in the Washington zone by John Potvin, whose shot was deflected into the Capitals' net by Bill McMillar at 9.06 of the third period.

Washington goalie Bernie Wolfe, who turned aside 26 shots in Monday's shutout of Detroit, was far more brilliant tonight. He blocked all 21 New York shots in the second period, stopped 32 for the game and was named the game's No. 1 star.

With the game tied at 1-1 early in the third period, the Capitals' Jack Lynch lined a drive the prompted New York goalie Billy Smith to duck. The puck hit the crossbar, landed in the crease and skittered harmlessly away.

Almost throughout the contest, the Islanders' fans rained abuse on their heroes. There were chants of "Wake up" and a loud cry of "You're skating even directed racially at Washington's Mike Marson and Bill Riley.

Riley had an opportunity to squelch them late in the game, but he failed to get good wood on a Guy Charron setup and Smith blocked the shot, then smothered the puck before Ace Bailey could net the rebound.

The Capitals provided most of the offensive maneuvering in a close checking first period and outshot the Islanders, 10-4. The only goal, howeverr, was produced by New York's Bob Bourne at 9:43.

Defenseman Pat Prince shot wide of the net and J. P. Paris-quickkly grabbed the puck off the boards and slipped it out to Bourne. His backhander beat goalie Bernie Wolfe for his 10th of the season.

The Capitals kept the puck in New York ice throughout the first minute and the New York fans became restless, showering boos and pleas for action on their heroes.

Defenseman Gerry Hart answered the call by flattening Bob Sirois and ramming Ace Bailey out of the boards.

His activity left him out of position, however, and Bailey's feed gave Sirois an excellent scoring opportunity that was foiled when goalie Billy Smith came far out of the net to block the shot.

Smith, brother of Washington defenseman Gord Smith, received a penalty for swinging his stick at the Capitals' Mike Marson. Washington kept the puck in New York ice during the first 80 seconds of the power play, but did not fire a shot on goal. After lengthy passing preparation, two shots were smothered by the New York defense.

Jude Drouin of the Islanders was penalized for tripping Gord Lane, who appeared to slip without impetus. Regardless, the Capitals' power play did not capitalize on the chance.

Both Gerry Neehan and Guy Charron missed the New York net on rebound opportunities. Late in the period, Bourne broke behind the Capitals' defense with Yvon Labre out of position, but he lost control as he shifted the puck to shoot.

The Islanders dominated the second period, building a 21-10 shooting advantage, but Wolfe was flawless and the Capitals pulled even on Bob Sirois' sixth goal of the season at 13:57.

The score followed some heavy Washington pressure, with Smith stopping Bryan Watson and breathing easier after managing to deflect Bailey's rebound, apparently heading into an open net. But Sirois grabbed the puck at the rear boards and came in from behind. He was dumped into the crease and, while Smith struggled in the tangle, the goalie kicked the backward into his own net.

The fans were unhappy despite the 21-shot barrage and the Islanders were treated to boos as well as demeaning statements from New Yorkers unaccustomed to compassions or sportsmanship.

Wolfe was especially brilliant during two New York power plays, Lane being bounced for slashing an Bailey for tripping. The call on lane actually was beneficial to the Capitals.

The defenseman whacked Billy Harris free on a semibreakway, and referee Denis Morel blew the whistle as Harris crashed into Wolfe. The puck looked agonizingly at the completely empty net.

With Bailey off late in the period, the Islanders threw everything at Wolfe and the Washington defenders. Denis Potvin cut around Labre and broke in alone, but Wolfe stopped the shot with his left pad and foiled Brya Trottier's rebound attempt as well. When play halted, the little goalie leaned wearily on the cage.