Rookie Jim Bedard will be the starting goaltender and Bernie Wolfe, back in a Washington Capitals uniform for the first time in three weeks, will be his back-up when the Caps play the New York Rangers for the first time this season Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden (7:35 p.m., WDCA-TV-20).

Gary Smith, who has been in the nets for 17 of the Caps' 30 games this year, is suddely the odd man out now that the Caps are carring three goalies and will not make the trip.

Bedard, who gave a command performance Saturday night in Los Angeles, has a 2-4 record and 2.83 goals against average since being calle dup eight games ago.

He stopped 38 shots, many of them acrobatically, in the heartening 2-1 victory over the Kings, and was still drawing raves from general manager Max McNab today.

"He was just exceptional. The Kings were desperate for a win, and I thought it was one of those games a goaltender steals for you, even though the team played well in front of him," he said.

McNab downplayed speculation that he is busy trying to trade either Smith (2-12-3, with a 4.16 goals-against average) or Wolfe (1-4-2, 3.78, before he was sent to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League on Dec. 2).

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the caps will long keep three goalies, especially with Bedard playing so well and farmhand Rollie Boutin showing great promise as the leading netminder in the International League.

Many observers believe that Wolfe, who practiced with the Caps at Fort Dupont Monday and today after being recalled Saturday, will get some playing time soon in hopes of increasing his market value. He was 3-0 at Hershey, giving up only four goals, and had a shutout in his last outing.

Bedard will be facing the most productive power play (30 per cent efficiency) in the National Hokey League this year. The Rangers have scored 34 goals with a man advantage, off 112 opportunities.

Still, they are only 11-15-6 this season, 18 points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and 12 back of the New York Islanders in the Patric Division But with 28 points, they are in the running for a "wild card" Stanley Cup playoff spot.

The Rangers broke a seven-game winless streak (04-3) Sunday at the Garden with a 6-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings - the Caps' opponent Friday night when they return home to Capital Centre.

Center Phil Esposito, the Rangers' 35-year-old captain and second-leading scorer in NHL history, may not play Wednesday because of a charley horse in his right thigh, the result of a collision iwth a net post Saturday. "Espo" has 14 goals and 24 assists in 31 games, fifth best in the NHL.

John Davidson, who has a 2.69 goals-against average in 14 games, probably will start in goal ahead of Wayne Thomas (4.01 in 17 games, mostly against tougher opponents).

Dallas Smith, 36, the former Boston Bruin lured out of retirement last weekend to bolster New York's generally youthful corps of defensemen, may skate against the Caps.

The Rangers, who have gone for young blood (witness the jettisoning of Rod Gilbert) and speed, are 7-5-3 at home. The Capitals, 5-6-1 lifetime against the Rangers, have won only once in six games at the Garden. That was a 7-5 victory on Nov. 10, 1976.