Eric Vail scored two goals tonight, lifting the Atlanta Flames to a 5-1 National Hockey League victory over the Washington Capitals.

The loss also ended any hopes the Caps may have to score back-to-back victories for the first time this season.

A 5-3 victory at Cleveland Wednesday night ended a 20-game winless streak for the Washingtonians. Their last previous victory was on Oct. 26, over this same Atlanta team. The Caps were outshot tonight. 40-14.

Although the Capitals entered the game with only one victory in their last 21 tries, they have not fared badly against the Flames this season, Washington beat Atlanta, 6-2, here Oct. 26, and the teams tied, 2-2, at Capital Centre, Nov. 23.

In the first period tonight, neither team could generate much puck control.The Flames applied some bodychecking and forechecking, but they had few scoring opportunities.

Altanta, content to play a dump-and-forecheck game, did not get its second shot until 11:26 had elapsed. However, that shot scored, as Eric Vail hit from 30 feet on a power play. Rookie defenseman Bob Picard was off for elbowing.

Washington got its best scoring chance a minute later, with a two-on-one break against Dan Bouchard, who stopped a shot by Bob Sirois from the left side.

At 16:50, Bouchard made another good save on DaveForbes in close. The Flames' goalie, who entered the game with a 2-55 goals against average, repelled all eight Capital shots in the first period, while Atlanta had nine shots on rookie Jim Bedard.

The Flames, who entered the game with a seven-game winless streak, had territorial advantage through most of the first period, but they could not make plays around the net.

The Flames stretched their lead to 2-0 at 12:55 of the second period. This goal was much like the first, a power play with left winger Vail blasting from the faceoff circle. Dave Forbes was off for holding rookie Harold Phillipoff dug the puck from behind the net, and John Gould passed out to Vail.

The two-goal outburst by Vail followed a stretch in which he had scored only one goal in 20 games and three for the season.

Atlanta forechecked heavily in the second period, and it took some sharp goaltending by Bedard to keep the game close. Bobby Simpson, Curt Bennett and Bobby Lalende all had good shots turned back by Bedard.

The Capitals were rarely able to take the puck out of their end, and they had only one shot during the second period. Atlanta countered with 14.

Washington, which plays St. Louis in Capital Centre Sunday, had left winger Bob Girard in the lineup. The Capitals Thursday acquired Girard and a second-round draft choice in 1976 from the Cleveland Barons in exchange for Walt McKechnie.

Girard was snowbound in Buffalo Friday night, but joined the Capitals today.