The day after Christmas is Boxing Day, a national holiday in Canada, and the Canadians who represent the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers celebrated it in somewhat bastardized fastion last night at Capital Centre. Even Washington goalie Mike Palmateer put his fists to work, to the delight of 15,771 fans who also reveled in the final score: Capitals 7, Rangers 3.

It was the second straight fight-filled, marathon victory for the Capitals, following the 6-0 triumph in Philadelphia. "Whatever it takes to win," said Washington Coach Gary Green. "There's no use losing and being nice guys. We've tried that before."

The Capitals were tough from the start of this game. On the first shift, big Archie Hendereson, who flew his parents in from British Columbia for his Capital Centre debut, sent Barry Beck into the boards and set the tempo of play. The style quickly paid off in a Washingon goal.

Ryan Walter knocked down Ranger Dave Maloney, who got off a pass to Carol Vadnais. Mike Gartner checked Vadnais off the puck and it skipped to Bengt Gustafsson, who put the Captials ahead to stay at 2:07.

Bob Kelly enjoyed a four-point night, with two goals that boosted his season total to 14. Dennis Maruk scored twice and reached the 25-goal level. Howard Walker scored his first in the NHL and Walter his 12th of the season.

The only significant Ranger goal came late in the first period with a two-man advantage created by a penalty to Maruk for roughing and to the Captial bench because Maruk sought revenge against Phil Esposito instead of proceeding directly to the penalty box.

Those were the only penalties against Washington in the first period, as referee Gregg Madill ignored offenses that would have earned 90 days in Prince George's County Court. Eventually, he was forced to use his whistle extensively just to avert all-out war, which almost erupted anyway. The final penalty figure of 176 minutes, 104 for New York, was modest by comparison with the 344 in Philadelphia Sunday. Such figures should be absent this evening, when the Capitals visit the Montreal Forum, a rink where they have an 0-18 record.

Whether Palmateer once again will make back-to-back starts is questionable. He figures to be tired, although the Rangers' 32 shots were nowhere near as testing as the Flyers' 44 on Sunday.

"Tonight I feel like I'm going to be awfully sore by the time the game rolls around," Palmateer said. "I felt that one on just about every part of my body."

In the second period, Palmateer used his stick to chop down any visitors to his territory. By the third period, the Rangers were paying closer attention to the little goalie, although attempts at retaliation proved more frustrating than successful.

Palmateer and Eddie Johnstone exchanged high sticks, then traded punches, with Johnstone learning that punching a goalie's mask can be unpleasant, before he pulled it off just as the two were separated.

Since Palmateer was not required to serve his four-minute penalty, he was primed moments later to leave his crease and sent Don Maloney into the boards behind the Washington net. Ranger Carol Vadnais jumped Palmateer and received the lone penalty, for charging. He and Anders Hedberg, who was chased for shoving a broken stick at Gustafsson, were in the box when Walker scored the Capitals' sixth goal.

"It's not often I drop the gloves. Tonight the occasions were there when I had to go out and some things developed. Some nights there's no reason for any of that. Tonight lots of things were happening."

There were some weird happenings, although many of them were mere routine for Capital Centre. The penalty clock was inoperative during the first period, but fortunately it was repaired in time for the major conflagrations. There was the usual red light for a Capital shot that did not enter the net. Kelly received applause for inadvertently knocking down referee Gregg Madill and Tim Tookey had a good check, hitting both Beck and Madill at the same time.

In the second period, the frustrated Beck went after Henderson on the Washington bench.Kelly grabbed Beck's stick and the big Ranger was given 12 minutes in the penalty box. At this point, the Ranger obviously felt Madill would not call another penalty. They guessed right through a flagrant high stick by Johnstone on Darren Veitch and a no-opponent frozen puck against the boards, but when Hedberg tackled Gartner football-style, he was sent off and Kelly used the two-man edge to boost Washington's lead to 4-1.