A crowd of 17,724, largest of the season, was lured to Capital Centre last night by a two-for-one "date night" promotion. The Capitals, however, apparently got their dates mixed up.

The stanley Cup champion Montreal Canadians come to Capital Center tonight and it appeared as if the home team already was thinking about that confrontation. The Capitals certainly weren't ready to play the guys in those crazy black uniforms, the Vancouver Canucks, who walked off with a 5-1 decision.

Ron Sedlbauer scored two goals for the Canucks, giving him a season total of 31, and defenseman Harold Snepsts was a 45-minute man who collected three assists and the No. 1 star. It was a remarkable effort by the Canucks, missing seven players with injuries.

"They've been playing very well and maybe they overlooded ua a little bit," said Vancouver Coach Harry Neale. "It's easy to look past us, especially when you play Montreal the next night.

"We outworked them and I think we outmanned them. We not only scored five goals, but we hit at least five posts. We forechecked them. we thought we could forecheck them and make them cough up the puck."

"It was just one of those games," said Washington Captain Guy Charron. "It seemed that every time there was a loose puck it was on their sticks and every time we shot it was hitting their pads. It always seems like it happens that way when the building is filled up.

"We've played a lot of good hockey games in the last month and tonight we just didn't. I think the guys were aware we had to win tonight to get those two points before we go into the Montreal game. Now we've just got to forget about it. The big club is coming in town and I think the guys will be ready and give 100 percent to beat that club."

While the fans had little to cheer about, they refrained from booing the team that had posted a 7-2-1 record in its previous 10 games. Perhaps they could discern that the Capitals were just as frustrated as they were.

Goalie Gary Inness was the most frustrated of all and he was unable to mask his emotions. On the first Vancouver goal, Inness was jammed into the net by the Canucks' Hilliard Graves, permitting Swedish defenseman Lare Lindgren to record his first NHL score without opposition, Referee Alf Lejeune ruled the goal legal because Washington's Leif Svensson was shoving Graves.

Inness was so infuriated that he broke his stick and threw the shaft toward center ice. Then he swung his new lumber at any Canuck who came within shouting distance.

Not long afterward, Inness skated into the corner and challenged Sedlbauer, who dumped him with a thumping check. This caused Washington's Gord Lane to lecture Sedlbauer, who soon proved he was unimpressed.

Sedlbauer skated in from the rightwing corner, faked a pass and beat Inness on the short side, meanwhile svoiding a check by Lane, who was attempting to put him in retaliatory orbit.

Inness, during a month of brilliant play that has turned the Capitals completely around, repeatedly has shunned the credit and attempted to pass it to his teammates. So it was no surprise that this time he tried to shoulder all the blame.

"I shouldn't have acted like that," Inness said. "I just lost my head instead of keeping my cool. It was all my fault and I take full responsibility.

"The guy (Graves) had me pinned against the post and Leif was trying to pull him off. That goal never should have counted. But I should have let it go."

"Inness got a little upset, as he sometimes does," Neale said, "and I think it hurts his goaltending when he does."

Each team was a man short, following a spate of minor penalties, when Graves skated in from the right-wing circle, avoiding Rick Green's belated check, and flipped the puck over Inness to make it 3-0.

The buzzer beat a Stan Smyl shot into the net by a split seconmd, but Vancouver quickly made it 4-0 anyway on a 50-foot drive by Barry Goodenough at the 38-second mark of the second period. Lane was off for tripping when Goodenough's blast hit the goal post and caromed behind Inness.

Bob Sirois averted a shutout when he converted a headman pass from Tom Rowe at 15:10 of the second period. It was Sirois' 20th goal and he became the second Capital to reach that figure (Ryan Walter has 22).It was only hhe second goal in 15 games for Sirois, who netted his 18th on Jan. 3.

Sedlbauer closed the scoring into an empty net after Belisle had pulled Inness for a sixth skateer with 2:05 remaining and Washington three goals behind. CAPTION:

Picture 1, Dennis Maruk of Capitals is slashed by Canuck defenseman Bob Manno on foray near Vancouver goal. Manno foiled the scoring attempt but drew a penalty on the play. By Richard Darcey -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Tom Rowe of Capitals gets sandwiched between Harold Snepsts, left, and Larry Goodenough as Goodenough ducks Washington winger's stick. Goodenough scored fourth Vancouver goal. By Richard Darcey -- the Washington Post