Midway through the second period tonight, with the Washington Capitals trailing the Winnipeg Jets, 3-0, Washington's leading scorer, Dennis Maruk, shot wide of the net, crashed into the boards, rolled over and waved for help.

What was Washington Coach Gary Green thinking at that moment?

"There's no big bridges in Winnipeg," Green said later, and he was laughing, because Maruk arose, became a one-man gang and brought the Capitals back to a dramatic 5-3 victory.

Paul Mulvey got one goal back in the second period, on a blast off goalie Markus Mattsson's stick. Then the Capitals came out flying for the third period.

Maruk dug out the puck behind the Winnipeg net and fed Jean Pronovost in front to make it 3-2. Maruk brough the puck out from behind himself and netted a backhander, with Pronovost screening Mattsson. And Maruk went behind yet again, to feed Pronovost for the go-ahead score that also boosted Pronovost to 382 career goals, No. 18 on the NHL list ahead of Hartford's Dave Keon.

For a final fillip, Mike Gartner hit an empty net with 11 seconds remaining, an important number because it was with 11 seconds remaining on Tuesday night that Per-Olov Barsar's goal enabled Vancouver to tie Washington, 3-3. There was another important number, goalie Mike Palmateer assisting Gartner for his sixth of the season, tying Gilles Meloche's NHL season mark for a goalie.

Because of the tough physical game in Vancouver and the absence of Bengt Gustafsson with a bruised ankle suffered from a shot in that game, Green juggled his lines tonight, putting Maruk between Alan Hangsleben and Gartner, while Tim Tookey centered Pronovost and Bob Kelly.

"They were playing line for line andI wanted to slow the tempo down," Green said. "Back-to-back games have been a problem for us and we have trouble playing three strong periods the second night."

Green succeeded so admirably that in the second period many of the 14,167 fans could be excused the yawns that accompanied 20 minutes in which Washington registered four shots on goal, Winnipeg three. But in the final period the Roaring Twenties were back together and there was no stopping the Capitals.

"I can't say it was the line change," Maruk said. "I had three or four chances early but I wasn't getting off very good shots. He (Mattsson) made some big saves early, too.

"It's funny how it goes. I could have had three or four last night in Vancouver, but I missed an open net by a hair and I hit a post. Tonight I had three or four chances, too. But I'm not complaining. We won and we got closer to the playoffs and I diddn't get hurt.

"When I went into the boards, I felt a sharp pain and my back was sore. It's still sore, but it's probably just a bruise. I didn't want to move, just in case it was something serious. I lost the balance and never did get a good shot off and then I went down."

By winning, the Capitals evened their record at 13-13-11 and finished 1980 with a winning mark: 31-30-19. The Jets, meanwhile, were slipping to 2-28-7 and they have won only once in 34 games. They never have beaten Washington in six meetings, with two tied, and Gren used all these statistics to motivate his troops after that awful second period.

"I reminded them that Colorado was the only team to lose to Winnipeg in 33 games and I asked them whether we wanted to be in the position of a hockey club known coast to coast as putting Winnipeg back on a one-game winning streak," Green said. "It's not a knock on Winnipeg. It's pride in ourselves.

"We knew they've had problems going into the third period. Mentally, if you come out strong and score a quick goal, you roll them over and take it to them. We were a very determined club going out in that third period and we did it."

There were some weird happenings earlier, as Yvon Labre tried to pass behind his net and hit the cage, almost giving Winnipeg a goal; Wes Jarvis, killing penalties, lost his balance and skated into the Winnipeg goal post, and Ryan Walter lost a puck in his skates, stumbling backward into the boards. Walter had to trip Morris Lukowich after that mishap to avert a breakaway and the Jets utilized the penalty to score their third goal.

Even after Mulvey reduced the margin to 3-1, Winnipeg hit two posts within minute, Lukowich clanging one on a breakaway and Dave Babych striking another, on which the goal judge briefly switched on the red light, prompting much fan dissent with referee Andy Van Hellemond.