Washington Coach Gary Green tossed a pack of stomach pills to Roger Crozier, the Capitals' assistant general manager, before tonight's game and said, "Have a Maalox. This is going to be a tough one."

Green, who already had made use of the remedy, proved correct in his forecast, but he might have been better advised to issue the rest of the pills to goalie Wayne Stephenson.

The Atlanta Flames fired 39 shots at Stephenson, who turned aside 26 before the red light went on behind him. Atlanta fired it up three more times and won, 4-2, to raise its record to .500.

"It was frustrating," said Green, who became a father for the first time at 11:05 a.m., raced from Prince George's Hospital to the airport and arrived in time to catch two hours' sleep, his first in 34 hours, before moving behind the bench.

After today's practice, Crozier chalked a message to the team on the blackboard, "Win this one for Jennifer Lee." She is the 8-pound 3-ounce bundle that Sharon Green presented to husband Gary this morning two weeks overdue.

Green is used to waiting, his first NHL victory having taken nine games and 17 days to arrive, but his accustomed confidence is waning with the club's toll of injuries.

The Capitals had numerous scoring opportunities tonight, but too often the puck was caught in skates or deflected wide or shot directly into the pads of Atlanta goalie Pat Riggin.

"It was a teeter-totter game," Green said. "At times we were dominated in our own end, then we would go down the other end and get good scoring opportunities. Of course, we didn't finish most of them. We need the scoring touch of Guy Charron, Dennis Maruk and Mike Gartner out there. But if we don't havt it, we have to get the best from what we have."

Gartner, his bruised left heel still swollen, is a doubtful starter Saturday night, when the Capitals entertain the New York Rangers at Capital Centre at 7:30. The Rangers are hurting, too, with six players out, the latest defenseman Barry Beck with an elbow injury, but Capital nemesis Phil Esposito will be there, needing just two goals to reach 700.

The crowd of 9,166 in the Omni was a bit restless when the 35-minute mark passed tonight with Washington ahead, 1-0. That goal came on a power-play blast by Robert Picard, who raced in from the right point and drilled a 35-footer over diving defender Brad Marsh past Riggin at 1:12 of the first period.

From then on, it was Stephenson with his hand in the dike trying to stem the Atlanta onslaught. He did a marvelous job of it, too, but finally with 4:24 left in the second period defenseman Paul Reinhart took advantage of 4-on-3 power play to slip behind the Washington defense and deflect Guy Chouinard's pass behind Stephenson.

Eric Vail connected from 45 feet nine seconds after the third-period faceoff and Garry Unger boosted the margin to 3-1 at 4:53.

There was a resurgence of Washington hope when Glen Currie banged in a rebound with 6:07 remaining. It was the first NHL goal for Currie, recalled from Hershey today as a partial replacement for the missing Gartner and Leif Svensson.

The final deflater came 14 seconds later, as Jean Pronovost converted Unger's pass out of the right-wing corner to rebuild the two-goal margin.

Washington never quit in its bid to win one for Jennifer Lee Green. Papa Gary pulled Stephenson for a sixth skater with 1:17 remaining and Tim Coulis eventually jammed the puck in with 14 seconds left, but referee Bruce Hood had blown his whistle before the puck crossed the goal line.

"As far as I'm concerned, it was a goal," Coulis said. "It bounced off his (Riggin's) pads and he put his glove on it and I banged it in. The ref blew his whistle too quick."

This was the third solid game in a row for Stephenson and Green indicated he probably would come right back with him against the Rangers.

"Stevie really had an excellent game," Green said. "He held us in there in that second period, save after save (stopping 18 of 19 Atlanta shots)."

"It was a tough one," Stephenson said. "They were coming at us pretty good all night. The two at the start of the third period kind of deflated us."

Currie, playing only his second NHL game, was awarded high marks.

"He played well and his size and reach were a big help against a team the size of Atlanta," Green said. "He did a good job killing penalties and I had confidence in him out there."

The Maalox helped, too.