A year ago, center Dennis Maruk established a club record for the Washington Capitals by scoring 90 points. It seemed reasonable that he would be aiming for 100 this time. Instead, Maruk has only one goal: to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"My goal is the playoffs, because I've never been there." Maruk said. "We're all thinking about the playoffs. Since day one in Hershey, the playoffs have been in the back of our mind.

"A lot of us can't wait to see what that feeling's like. Some guys on this club have been there, but most of us have no idea what it's like. It will be great for the city and great for the team's management to have the excitement of a playoff."

Many players have little regard for management's role in the sport. Maruk, however, has been part of two franchises, in Oakland and Cleveland, that have disappeared. He is wise enough to realize that the fans in Washington will not wait for a winner forever.

"Losing, you know you won't draw anybody." Maruk said. "Winning is the biggest plus. Winning excites the fans more than anything else and in Washington it means the most.

"If we can win 10 more games than last year, I know we'll have a lot more fans. If we're in the thick of things by Christmas, there have to be more fans. The biggest crowds of my pro career have been here in Washington, and that was with a team that was struggling."

Maruk has been a popular figure during his four NHL seasons, with chants of "Ma-rook" accompanying his flashy play in Oakland and Cleveland as well as at Capital Centre. Despite his career averages of 31 goals and 75 points, however, he was not able to lift any of his teams into the playoffs. 7Now he feels it is time.

"We're still fighting a battle, it's not an overnight thing," Maruk said. "You could call it an uphill battle, because we are going uphill. We're not going downhill. This is going to be the best year Washington has had. If everybody blends in right, it will be a great year. We have a lot of new faces, a lot of talent. We just have to put it together."

Maruk has maintained a hot pace through the club's best-ever (7-2-1) exhibition campaign, leading all scores with 14 points. He is ready to start playing for keeps when the team opens regular season play Thursday at Buffalo.

"We're hungry and we want this thing to get going," Maruk said.

He meant the season; he could have been talking about the franchise.

The future of goalie Jim Bedard remains a mystery. He is still on the Washington roster, but it is obvious Wayne Stephenson and Gary Inness will do most of the work in the nets.Dave Parro and Rollie Boutin appear set at Hershey . . . Tom Rowe's mother was buried yesterday. A decision on his participation in the opener will be made this morning.