The Washington Capitals permitted the New York Rangers four goals in the first two periods tonight. This time it was too much to overcome.

The Capitals, who wiped out a 4-0 deficit in the third period to trip the Rangers, 5-4 at Capital Centre Dec. 15, wound up 5-2 losers tonight, ending their modest winning streak at two.

"You only get invited to the ball once a year," Washington Coach Gary Green said. "The last time against the Rangers was too good to be true.

"We came out flat tonight, we weren't playing the body and we weren't hitting; We came out better in the third period, but to win a game in one period again was asking too much."

Still, there was a moment of hope for the few Capital fans in the throng of 17,402. Early in the third period, defenseman Rick Green reached his stick out to block a seemingly certain scoring shot into an open net by Ranger Ron Duguay, completing a two-on-one break with Dean Talafous.

Play immediately moved to the other end, where the Captials' Antero Lehtonen crossed the blue line and blasted a 50-footer past goalie Steve Baker. Suddenly, it was 4-2 and memories were reviving.

The Capitals applied considerable pressure to Baker, but one crack did not presage a collapse. The goalie made fine close-in save on Mike Kaszycki and Guy Charron to preserve the lead. Then Charron intercepted a Duguay pass and broke in on Baker. As he tried to shift the punt to his backhand to slip it behind the goalie, Charron lost the punk.

Finally, the tease ended with 8:23 left as Ulf Nilsson passed from behind the Washington net Steve Vickers, who eluded Green and Pete Scamurra to score on his own rebound, breaking his stick in the process. It was 5-2 and out to reach.

The Rangers were flying from the starting gate, but Washington goalie Rollie Boutin made three superb saves and it was the Capitals who scored first. On Washington's first shot, Charron took a passf from Tom Rowe and fired the puck over Baker's right shoulder.

Barry Beck pulled the Rangers even on a power play with Kaszycki off for tripping Ron Greschner. Beck's blast from the left point slipped between Capital Leif Svensson's legs and skidded past Boutin, who was screened by Nilsson. The Capitals, outshot 12-5 in those opening 20 minutes, were fortunate to be even.

The game started coming apart in the first 10 seconds of the second period. Beck dumped the puck and Boutin played it, but he was hit by Duguay, who retrived the puck behind the net and set up Claude Larose for an easy goal while Boutin was still scrambling back into position. l

"When I came out and made that mistake in the second period, it turned things around," Boutin said. "They started buzzing. He (Duguay) caught me by surprise. I saw him coming, but I wasn't ready. I was going back along the boards with the puck, but I saw a Ranger over there, so I went behind the net instead. He hit me and I dribbled it and he picked it up."

Eddie Johnstone scored on a Dave Maloney setup to make it 3-1 and it was 4-1 before the period ended, Nilsson checking Greg Polis off the puck to initiate a play that ended with Anders Hedberg's 20th goal.

The Capitals played without defenseman Robert Picard, who had scored two goals and five assists in victories over Toronto and Chicago. Picard was cut on the left hand during the Vancouver game Dec. 21 an infection resulting from that wound kept him out for the first time this season.

Additionally, Rowe Aggravated his bruised right hip when he was rammed against the boards in the third period. It was a rough game, despite the trivial number of seven minor penalties called by referee Wally Harris.

"The Rangers are a strong team and they were hitting," Green said, "They outmuscled us and they deserved the win."

"That (the 5-4 loss) was fairly evident in our minds," said Ranger captain Dave Maloney."We had to maintain the intensity evident in every Washington game for two-thirds of the game. When we came in after the second, the guys were a little only. We weren't going to let this one get away."