It was giveaway night at Capital Centre last night. The Capitals gave pucks to youngsters among the disappointing crowd of 8,723, then allowed the Pittsburgh Penguins to join the fun by putting seven pucks in the Washington net.

The final score was 7-4, the Penguins completed a home-and-home sweep and the Capitals are three points deep in the Norris Division cellar. Unless they can rebound tonight in St. Louis (WDCA-TV-20 at 9 p.m.), they may be devoid of playoff hopes before winter arrives.

Jim Bedard was in the Washington nets for the third straight game and for the third straight game he did not distinguish himself. After Pittsburgh's fourth goal, fans chanted "Ber-nie, Ber-nie" in unfulfilled request for Bernie Wolfe and one had to wonder why Wolfe had not been given the starting role. Coach Danny Belisle's reply raised the question of whether he was repeatedly using Bedard to force General Manager Max McNab to do something about the goaltending situation.

"He's our No. 1 goalie and the No. 1 goalie starts," Belisle said. "Some goaltenders play 23 straight games. They told me he's No. 1 and he just signed a three or four-year contract before I came here."

In fairness to Bedard, he had a lot of help in dissipating a 3-1 lead the Capitals had built by the four-minute mark of the second period. Washington stopped checking, lost faceoffs, made inaccurate passes and generally played like a last-place team.

After Rick Kehoe scored on a Pittsburgh power play of dubious origin, Dennis Maruk, Bob Sirois and Ryan Walter connected and Washington seemed destined to win its third home game. By the time the Penguins had collected the next five goals, there was wonder whether the Capitals would ever win another game.

"All of a sudden we forgot about our game plan," Belisle said. "We quit playing the man and started stick checking. I would have liked to call a 10-minute timeout and go to the dressing room, but you can't do that in hockey. I could see it coming and I would change lines and hope to get back to basics, but the next line would play the same way."

Sixty-seven seconds after Walter's goal, Ron Stackhouse sent a 30-footer past Bedard, after breaking down ice with Peter Lee. George Ferguson deflected a Dale Tallon slap shot to tie the game 2 1/2 minutes later and then Lee swept down the middle and drilled a 35-footer past Bedard on the stick side as the fans hooted.

Lee cut around defenseman Gord Lane for a breakaway score before the second period mercifully ended, then Ross Lonsberry netted a backhander to wrap it up with 6:20 left.

Guy Charron's sixth goal of the season preceded Ferguson's empty-net finale and Charron at least was relieved that he was not under some permanent dark cloud.

In the first period, Charron blasted a shot that hit one post, slid along the goal line, hit the other post and caromed out. Dave Weaver, in the sound room, touched off the siren but the goal light stayed off. The reactions were reversed in the third period, as Charron scored a no-counter a moment after referee Gregg Madill stopped play because of a fight between the Capitals' Tom Rowe and Pittsburgh's Randy Carlyle.

There were many fights, as Pittsburgh was assessed 47 minutes in penalties, Washington 41. Dave Schultz, the Penguins' least skillful player, received 21 minutes in penalties, but the amazing thing was his ability to stay around following an incident in the third minute of the game.

After Schultz and the Capitals' Paul Mulvey bumped each other, Schultz swung his stick at Mulvey, missing the rookie's face by inches. The foul clearly called for a match penalty and Schultz embellished his sin by dumping linesman Ray Scapinello as he tried to restore order. Schultz then engaged in a stick-waving match with Washington's Gord Lane. When order was temporarily restored, Schultz was assessed two minors and Mulvey and Lane one each.

The token punishment was a virtual invitation to lawlessness and the stick swinging continued almost to the finish. Even the 5-foot-8 Maruk could take no more at one stage and waded with fists swinging at 6-5 Peter Mahovlich.

"Mahovlich speared me and I don't take that, no matter how big he is," said Maruk, who later battled the 5-10 Ron Schuttt after being grazed by a high stick.

The funniest part of the Maruk-Mahovlich incident was the way each player skated toward the penalty box, then circled back on learning no penalty had been called.

The Capitals' power play batted 0-for-7 and twice in the first period, for a total of 3 minutes 43 seconds, Washington failed to capitalize on a two-man advantage. The extra-man effort was so bad that fans began chanting "Edberg" in a request for Rolf Edberg, the Capitals' best stickhandler. On this occasion, Belisle obliged, sending the Swede out for a 49-scond power-play shift.

Defenseman Gord Smith performed creditably after two weeks of exile in Hershey and was named to the traveling squad for the four-game road trip that opens tonight in St. Louis.

The Capitals picked a good time to leave town.