It was halfway through the third period at Capital Centre last night and Dustin Smith, age 6 months, began to cry despite the comforting of his nonplaying father, Capital defenseman Rick Smith. By that time a lot of other folks in the Capital Centre crowd of 17,903 felt like crying, too.

Having feasted on three straight opponents from the NHL's dregs, the Capitals found a visit from the ninth-place Boston Bruins a different type of tea party. The Bruins made it a boring night for Capital partisans by breezing to a 7-1 victory that lowered Washington's record against the top nine teams to 3-20-7.

Peter McNab, son of the Capitals' general manager, was the game's lone two-goal scorer, although he needed to work only slightly harder than Smith, deflecting a pair of shots from the point.

The Capitols' score came on a power-play rebound by Dennis Maruk with 16 seconds left in the second period. It was Maruk's 42nd and, trimming the deficit to 4-1, it offered hope that Washington might bounce back in the final period. That possibility disappeared with Dick Redmond's goal from the slot at 2:12.

"I thought when we scored at the end of the period it would give us some momentum," said Washington Caoch Gary Green. "But that fifth one seemed to knock the heart out of us. They deserved to beat us, but the score was no indication of the play."

Washington outshot the Bruins, 35-32, but the rebound by Maruk, just under the crossbar, was all that got pass rookie goalie Marco Baron, playing only his eighth game in the NHL. Baron. 21, is filling in for his recovering from a strained muscle in the left arm. Olympic hero Jim Craig, meanwhile, is healthy but has not played since Feb. 4.

There was no mystery about Washington's goaltending choice as Dave Parro, although still less than 100 percent with a bad left shoulder, gave Mike Palamateer a night of rest to prepare for tonight's big game in Toronto (WDCA-TV-20 at 8). Palmateer had played all three games of the winning streak and many of the fans were clamoring for him as the score mounted last night, despite the difficulty of the shots that got by.

"There were three tip-ins that changed direction, two goals he was completely screened on, a two-on-one situation where he didn't have much chance," Green said. "How do you blame Davy Parro for them? This was the Bruins' night. Everything was going their way."

Wayne Cashman, who converted that two-on-one with Steve Kasper to open the scoring, agreed that the Bruins were having one of their better nights, as they built their lifetime record over Washington to 23-1-7.

"With the exception of a few games in Boston, this is the best we've ever played against the Capitals," said Cashman, who has been involved in most of them. "We haven't played this well the last five or six games, but it's a good way to move toward the playoffs."

Parro, who toiled two years in the Bruins' farm system before escaping by a way of a Quebec merger draft selection, was disappointed after his first confrontation with his former employers.

"I didn't just want to beat them for myself, though," Parro said. "I wanted to win this one for the team, to keep the streak going. But they came out flying, they got their sticks on the puck all over the place and their goaltender made the big saves."

Disappearing with the winning streak was Mike Gartner's string of scoring a goal in seven straight games. Gartner had an excellent chance when Ryan Walter set him up in from with the game scoreless, but he shot over the crossbar.

"The puck was rolling just a bit and I caught it flat and shot too high," Gartner said. "But that streak doesn't mean a damn thing now."

"We were embarrassed by the score," Green said. "It's become pretty clear that 99 percent of the time a team is beaten badly, it will rebound the next game. We'll take that out on Toronto tommorrow night."