The Washington Capitals got a taste of the National Hockey League's expansion corps tonight -- and smacked their lips.

The Capitals, after a somewhat lethargic beginning, scored four goals in less than three minutes late in the second period and defeated the Hartford Whalers, 4-2.

Washington was playing without a number of regulars but still exhibited considerably more skill than the Whalers, who were denuded by the expansion draft.

"Don't feel sorry for them," said Washington's Jack Lynch, a Capital since that awful first season of 1974-75. "Nobody was feeling sorry for us. It's good to be on the other side of it."

Lynch didn't even show any sympathy for his boyhood idol, 51-year-old Gordie Howe.That remarkable man, troubled by dizzy spells, made his first exhibition appearance after saying that he would hold neither his physician nor the Whalers responsible if something should happen to him on the ice.

Lynch broke up a two-on-one break by deflecting a Howe shot into the corner, then he dumped Howe into the boards.

"I was glad to get my stick on that shot," Lynch said. "It's something, your idol coming down on you with the puck. He was a star when I was a kid and finally I got a chance to play against him."

The Whalers dominated play in the first period and Andre Lacroix gave them a 1-0 lead on a breakaway after stealing the puck from Gord Lane.

Washington controlled the second period, limiting Hartford to three shots. It did not pull even until 4:19 remained, however, as Rolf Edberg sent a 35-foot dipping shot under Terry Richardson's glove while the Capitals were shorthanded.

Building momentum, the Capitals went ahead 66 seconds later as rookie Errol Rausse converted Ryan Walter's pass from behind the net.

Right wing Mike Gartner made his first appearance as a Capital and played well enough to be named the No. 2 star.

Washington, now 3-0 in exhibition play, battles the Penguins Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.