The red light never went on for Bengt Gustafsson tonight. The Washington Capitals' Swedish sensation was credited with a goal anyway, then was frustrated on a third-period penalty shot as the Capitals battled the torrid Minnesota North Stars to a 2-2 tie. s

The North Stars, beaten at hoe only once all season, were happy to settle for their third Met Center, tie. It took a brilliant individual effort by Bobby Smith, playing his first game in seven weeks, to pull Minnesota even midway through the final period and goalie Gilles Meloche needed all his magic to keep it that way

With 7:17 remaining Meloche threw his stick at the puck and Washington was awarded a penalty shot. It must be taken by a player on the ice at the time. Gustafsson had just failed to jam the puck around the post, but the Minnnesota minor officials claimed the Swede, No. 16, was not out there and tabbed "No. 26" instead. Since Washington has no No. 26, Gustafsson was permitted to shoot.

Gustafsson was considerably upset crowd, put a deke on Meloche, who went down, but he was unable to lift the puck and the goalie blocked it.

"Steph (Wayne Stephenson) told me he always goes down, so I plan to make a move, get him down, and then pick it up," Gustafsson said."I did just what I want to do, but he puck stopped on the ice and I got it in my feet.

"If you're lucky, you score.If he's lucky, he saves it. It's a 50-50 thing. I've had about 50-50 success on them. It's funny, the way the crowd tried to get on me. But you can't let them bother you."

Gustafsson was considerably upset earlier. With Minnesota leading, 1-0, Rolf Edberg delected a Mike Polich pass and Gustafsson intercepted and went in on a breakaway. He deked Meloche, then drilled the puck behind the goalie. It hit the center post and caromed out, high in the air.

Gustafsson waved his stick in delight, but he goal judge made no signal and referee Bob Kilger permitted play to continue until linesman Will Norris told him what happened. Kilger then stopped play and warded the goal. n

It revived memories of the Capital's first year, when Steve Atkinson apparently broke a 4-4 tie here with a shot that went through goalie Cesare Maniago, struck the center post and caromed out. It never was allowed and the North Stars eventually won, 6-4.

Leif Svensson, playing at left wing with Guy Charron and Tom Rowe, put Washington ahead at 2-1 with a quick backhander from the right-wing circle midway through the second period.

The Capitals several times came close to a two-goal lead. The best opportunity came when Gustafsson slipped past two North Stars and shot. In making the save, Meloche was left far out of position. Mike Kaszycki shoved the rebound to Edberg, who aimed for the empty net, but Meloche slid back to make the save.

Then Smith, idle since Nov. 17 with a broken ankle, created the final score. He stole the puck from Mark Lofthouse in the Washington end, cut around defenseman Pierre Bouchard and drilled a high backhander under crossbar.

Although beaten on that one, Rollie Boutin was brilliant in the Washington nets, with a 32-save effort that was probably his best performance in what is now a 5-2-1 season.

"Rollie was really under a lot of pressure and he handled himself very well," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "I think it's time for him to move his stuff from Hershey to Washington.

Green had planned to give Boutin a rest after he played his sixth straight game Friday night in Harford, but he changed his mind and it was probably a good thing. Backup Gary Inness became ill during the warmup and Stephenson was summoned from the press box to sit on the bench.

"Rollie played so well last night and I knew we'd have a tough game here," Green said. "It really was not to fair to put Gary or Steph in against a team like this when they'd been out so long."

Fans here are already awaiting Monday night's visit by Philadephia, but the 11,887 who were here tonight may be too hoarse to yell much.

As for Green, he won't mind a little respite.

"I'm happy that we played so well, because an effort was made to get our guys up for playing against a really strong hocky club," Green said. "But my legs are tired and I wasn't even skating."