Eddie Johnstone's goal with 1:44 remaining brought the New York Rangers a 4-4 tie last night at Capital Centre and dealt a demoralizing blow to the Washington Capitals' shaky playoff hopes.

Johnstone converted a two-on-one pass from Reijo Ruotsalainen seconds after Washington's Bobby Gould had lined a shot off the crossbar at the other end. Gould had put the Capitals ahead for the fourth time with 8:10 left, beating goalie Steve Weeks with a blistering short-side shot from the right wing circle.

"It's a tough way to lose, the way we played tonight," Gould said. "He (Weeks) didn't move on that last shot. I think he expected me to pass. You might know they'd come right back after it hit the crossbar."

It was not a loss, of course, but one could hardly blame the Capitals or their loyal supporters in the crowd of 14,259 for feeling that way. Instead of chopping into the Rangers' margin, Washington remained eight points behind New York in the struggle for fourth place and a playoff berth in the Patrick Division.

"It's just terrible," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "In our own building, against the team we have to try to catch . . . We certainly had enough chances. But you miss your chances and eventually it costs you."

"We might have stolen a point here tonight," said Ranger Coach Herb Brooks. "I wasn't happy with our effort from start to finish and Washington certainly had an edge in territorial play. We have been an inconsistent hockey team and until we understand it's a 60-minute hockey game we're not going to get over the hump."

After Gould's shot came so close to clinching things, Weeks began the game-tying play by feeding the puck to defenseman Ruotsalainen. The Finn carried over the Washington blueline, then made a perfect pass to Johnstone, who had escaped Lou Franceschetti's check in the slot.

"Rexy (Ruotsalainen) made a hell of a play," Johnstone said. "He put it on my stick and I just had to slide it in."

"I got crossed up with Bergy (Greg Theberge)," Franceschetti said. "I didn't communicate with Bergy. I should have had him (Johnstone) all the way."

The Capitals do not have a lot of time to lift up their chins after this one. They return to action tonight at 7 in Buffalo against the Sabres, who whipped them twice earlier.

Washington never trailed last night, but it never delivered the knockout punch, either.

Dennis Maruk's 26th goal opened the scoring on a power play, but Mike Allison got it back for New York by muscling his way past Terry Murray to poke in a puck that was sitting in the crease after Don Maloney's shot had struck a post.

Darren Veitch hit on another power play--Washington's sixth straight extra-man success--late in the first period for a 2-1 Washington lead. But Theberge, who had a club-record seven shots on goal in the period, sent an eighth off a post and it stayed at a one-goal differential.

Pat Hickey knotted it a second time, batting down a Dave Silk centering pass and scoring from the slot when Timo Blomqvist failed to knock him off the puck.

Mike Gartner lined a shot off a post into the net for a 3-2 Washington advantage midway through the second period and it stayed that way for more than 20 minutes.

Then, with 10:24 left in the game and Gartner off for hooking, Dave Maloney cut through the slot and converted Mike Rogers' pass to tie it again.

Washington retaliated after Gaetan Duchesne, a battler all night, took the puck from Tom Younghans along the side boards and relayed it to Tim Tookey, who fed Gould for the tie breaker. Then Johnstone proved a spoiler.

"We didn't play well our last game at home, then tonight we have an active crowd and give up a late goal like that. It's a negative thing for our hockey players," Bryan Murray said. "We didn't ever have it in the bag, but we should have had things covered on their last two goals. This game really hurts."