It looked like a set for M*A*S*H. Ryan Walter lay on a table while trainer Billy Bozak probed at a yellowish bruise on his thigh. Alan Hangsleben sat with his right foot in a bucket of ice. Bengt Gustafsson held an icebag to his left shoulder. Another ice bag was wrapped to Paul Mulvey's right knee. Pat Ribble disposed of the splint that had protected his sprained right thumb and grabbed ice for his bruised knee.

Those were the men who played for the Washington Capitals tonight, in their fourth game in five nights, as the Capitals' losing streak expanded to three in a 6-2 defeat by the New York Rangers. Others, of course, were not there at all -- Rick Green, Paul MacKinnon, Rick Smith, Yvon Labre.

So it was easy to believe that Coach Gary Green was sincere, as he stood outside the room and said, "I can't get down on the guys right now. The last period I was looking down the bench and I had a hard time putting together a combination of guys that are healthy.

"We can win hockey games when we're healthy and when we're strong. We play good hockey when we're healthy and when we're strong. We have good depth in the organization. I can't explain why no other team has six guys out of the lineup."

The Capitals were outclassed in this game from beginning to end, outshot, 31-18, and who could count all the times the Rangers shot wide from close range? Still, some great goaltending by Wayne Stephenson blanked New York for the first 23 minutes and it was 1-1 until the 40th minute, when the Capitals' luck ran out.

Mike Gartner produced both Washington goals, the first on the teams first penalty shot of the season. It was awarded by referee Ron Fournier after Gartner was tripped from behind by Ranger Barry Beck.

Gartner, after grabbing a minute's rest on the bench while the Rangers argued with Fournier, skated slowly down the middle, then drilled the puck between the legs of goalie Wayne Thomas. The score, at 12:09 of the second period, tied the score at 1-1 and signaled the Capitals' first shot of the period, after New York had blasted nine at Stephenson, including a lamplighter by Jere Gillis.

This was the first penalty shot against the Rangers since Washington's Rolf Edberg scored against Doug Soetaert last season. That was the Capitals' only success in four tries a year ago.

It appeared Washington would get to the intermission even, but with 52 seconds left in the period Walt Tkaczuk escaped Howard Walker's clutches and backhanded a pass through the crease. Hangsleben and Ranger Eddie Johnstone battled for the puck and it apparently struck one of their skates and slipped past Stephenson.