In Quebec, the staples of life are religion and hockey. For many of the natives, a Sunday is spent combining devotions in church with enthusiatic support for the Nordiques.

If some of the morning prayers are offered on the Nordiques' behalf, they certainly are paying off. The Nordiques, outplayed much of the way, whipped the Washington Capitals, 3-2, tonight to run their unbeaten record on Sundays to 11 victories and one tie.

The Capitals were the spoilers who earned that tie, on Nov. 25, and they seemed headed for another tonight when Alan Hangsleben's third goal in three games knotted the count at 2-2 with 10:32 remaining.

Just 68 seconds later, however, Nordique Buddy Cloutier rebounded a Dale Hoganson shot for his second goal of the night and the Nordiques made it stand up to the final buzzer.

Ron Low, who departed the awful expansion Capitals after two years for more lucrative surroundings, made 32 saves in the Quebec net and was selected the game's No. 1 star. As in the old days, he was a one-man crew during the scoreless second period, when Washington enjoyed a 15-7 advantage in shots and had many more sail wide.

"It was a frustrating game," said Washington General Manager Max McNab. "We keep making the other team's goalie the No. 1 star."

The Captials started fast, with Mark Lofthouse deflecting Pierre Bouchard's slap shot past Low at 2:39.

Then Tim Coulis, recalled this morning from Hershey, was bounced for cross-checking Cloutier and the Nordiques' potent power play converted the opportunity. Cloutier, scoreless in six straight games, hit from the slot off Michel Goulet's setup for his 26th goal and 50th point.

Alain Cote deflected Hoganson's long drive past Rollie Boutin for a 2-1 lead and then it became Low against the world.

One puck did get past the bearded goalie, early in the second period. Mike Gartner, after Low blocked his drive, caught a rebound in midair and batted it into the net. Referee Dave Newell ruled, however, that Gartner has struck the puck with his stick above his shoulder.

"Is was questionable," Garther said. "It was up around my shoulder. It was a judgment call."

The Capitals' sorriest two minutes came when Quebec was assessed two simultaneous penalities, one for too many men and one to Pierre Plante for hooking. Washington had only two shots, just one of a threatening nature, during the two-man, two-minute advantage.

Hangsleben, in his second game as a Capital, produced his second Washington goal and fifth of the season when he deflected Robert Picard's slap shot while standing in the left-wing circle.

"I went up with the play on the far side and then circled," said Hanglesben, the right defensemen. "I tried to get back and then I saw Pic had control, so I tried to screen for him."

Cloutier, standing just outside the right post, was able to flip the rebound of Hoganson's shot-behind Boutin to win it, however, and the result left Washington Coach Gary Green beside himself with anger.

"We played an excellent game against Philadelphia and I had reason to expect the same here tonight," Green said. "But as far as I'm concerned, we did nothing out there."

It was a case of "Never on Sunday," at least for teams that must play the Nordiques on that magic day. There may be a solution, though. The Nordiques did drop an exhibition to the Central Red Army on a Sunday night. Perhaps the Capitals could take that group hostage when it returns for the Olympics.

Whether Soviets, Swedes, Finns, Canadians or Chinese, it seems likely the Capitals will be making some changes -- and soon.