They were hanging from the rafters at the Olympia tonight. By game's end, they wanted to string up the Red Wings there, too.

One man's bile, however, can be another's nectar. While the angry crowd of 15,067 jeered the home team at every inopportune moment, there doubtless were thousands enjoying each move on their television sets in Washington.

For this mismatch, a 4-1 Washington victory, may well have been the finest 60-minute effort by the Capitals in their five-year history.

Goalie Gary Inness came within 23 seconds of his first shutout in a Washington uniform by blocking 25 shots, and he made some marvelous saves at key moments. But he was immeasurably aided by wingers forechecking aggressively at one end, then racing back to help him.

A four-man defensive unit kept Inness' doorstep clear, with Leif Svensson playing his best game as a Capital and Robert Picard, Gord Lane and Pete Scamurra excelling, too. It was a remarkable performance in the absence of injured Rick Green, although it was somewhat tainted when Scamurra was tripped in the closing minutes by Detroit's Rob Plumb and twisted his left knee.

Guy Charron sent the Capitals ahead to stay with his 12th goal after 4 minutes 33 seconds. Ryan Walter checked Detroit's Errol Thompson off the puck in the Capitals' end, flattening Thompson after sliding the puck to Lane. Lane's pass sent Charron across the blue line unguarded and he blasted a 50-footer past embattled Rogie Vachon.

Tom Rowe, who netted the winner in in Wednesday's 8-3 rout of Los Angeles, made it two in a row with his 16th goal, at 10:18 of the second period. Dennis Maruk took the puck from Detroit's Perry Miller in the right-wing circle and shoved it to Rowe, who drilled the puck past Vachon on the short side.

Picard rifled a shot off a goal post, then blasted a 45-footer past Vachon on the same shift, at 13:18. This brought the entire Washington team off the bench bearing congratulatory pats.It was Picard's ninth goal and extended his scoring streak to eight games, during which he collected six goals and nine assists.

It was bench-emptying time once more before the second period ended. With Detroit's John Hilworth off for tripping Blair Stewart, Walter deflected Rowe's 50-footer past Vachon. Rowe had covered for Picard on the left point while the defenseman was battling for the puck behind the net.

The third period was devoted to preserving Inness' shutout and his teammates gave full effort to the task. Maruk at one stage dove to block a slap shot by Vaclay Nedomansky.

However, with 1:57 to play Rowe was penalized for slashing. The Red Wings' power play, most productive in the NHL, has been foiled five times earlier, but it clicked 23 seconds from the end for its 40th success of the season.

Defenseman Willie Huber saved the puck when it was partially across the Washington blue line on the way out and Dan Bolude capitalized on the opportunity, jamming the puck past Inness after skating around behind the net.

Oddly, this was only the second goal the Wings had scored all season in the last two minutes. They had yielded 16 during that crucial time period and signs hung by the disgruntled included "Warning, Last Two Minutes May Be Hazardous to Your Health."

Other pleas included "We want Woody Hayes on Defense" and "Go Wings Go -- Go Ted to Kansas City." Ted is General Manager Ted Lindsay, whose methods worked a year ago to steer to Wings into the playoffs. This year, however, they have won only eight games and tonight's result created a fourth-place tie between Washington and Detroit in the Norris Division.

The Wings are just about sold out for the season, as a result of last year's success, and the fans continue to come more to vent their displeasure than to enjoy themselves.

While the Wings dressed red-faced, Washington General Manager Max McNab was pondering the cancellation of Sunday's plane reservations for Chicago, where the Black Hawks are 8:35 (EST) opponents. The Capitals were so high after their second straight runaway they figured to make the trip unaided by jets.

Although this was the Capitals' first victory in seven games televised back to Washington this year, it was their sixth success on the road. For Inness, it was the second victory along with three ties, in six games. He made another of those amazing glove saves on Bolduc, freed at close range by a Dale McCourt pass, and if there is a better glove man around, he has not been evident this year.

"We knew he had no basic weakness," said McNab, who hired Inness away from the wreckage of the World Hockey Association's Indianapolis franchise."I wasn't aware he was that good with the glove. I sit at the end at Capital Centre and I've seen a couple that looked home free, but he grabbed them."

If Inness continues to perform this way, and continues to inject his teammates with confidence, McNab may have to sit elsewhere. To make way for paying customers.