The Washington Capitals were far from short on effort tonight, but they were shy on goals, losing, 6-3, to the Calgary Flames.

"We felt, going into the first period, they'd (the Flames) be sharp, coming off a long road trip, but that in the second and third they'd be weary and we could take advantage of them," said Coach Bryan Murray. "In the second, we dominated play; in the third, they sort of put it out of reach."

Washington had scored the game's first goal at 3:47, Bengt Gustafsson off a feed from Dennis Maruk. But the Flames came back with three unanswered goals that period before Ken Houston's shot put the Capitals back into contention. Calgary kept just a jump ahead, with Jim Peplinski's third period goal giving the Flames a 4-2 edge.

Rod Langway beat goalie Don Edwards at 13:30 of the third period, but Kent Nilsson's second goal of the game, two minutes later, sent the Capitals' chances by the boards.

Murray was upset about the officiating, and said so. During the second period, when Mel Bridgman hit Craig Laughlin, Randy Holt closed in on him near the Calgary net and Bridgman struck Holt in the face.

Bridgman got only a fighting penalty, but Holt was slapped for roughing and fighting and was sent off with a misconduct.

"I asked a simple question. I asked one linesman if he'd seen Bridgman punch Randy, and he hadn't seen it. And the referee and other linesman said they hadn't seen it either," Murray said. "I really must be a dummy. I come to games and see things that no one else sees, or will call."

Despite the score, Murray said his team played "an excellent hockey game. Sure, we made a couple mistakes early in the game. We weren't short on effort tonight, or chances either. We just needed more goal scoring."

The chances came by the carload. Mike Gartner had at least three excellent opportunities to get a goal, but an opponent, usually Edwards, always seemed to be in his path.

Murray had high praise for Gustafsson, too, saying, "He created opportunities and in one case passed up a two-on-one trying to do a little more."

Gustafsson scored when Maruk, off a faceoff in the Calgary end, controlled the puck and flipped it onto Gustafsson's stick. Then the Capitals hustled to keep command of play, only to be frustrated at almost every turn.

First Peplinski passed from a faceoff to Steve Christoff just inside the blue line. Christoff took a solid shot and it was 1-1 at 7:23.

Milan Novy, in on a breakaway, tried to put the Capitals back ahead but was stopped by Edwards.

Kevin Lavallee got the next Calgary goal, a boomerang from Allan MacInnis at 11:55, and Nilsson got his first of the night two minutes later.

In the second period, the Capitals held their own and Houston, traded from the Flames last summer, picked up the rebound of Gustafsson's shot and put it past a stiff-legged Edwards at 12:20.

Determined to get the game back, the Capitals worked especially hard in the final period, grabbing every chance for a play and taking 16 shots at Edwards. But only Langway's was good.

"They just took it away," Murray said. "They just kept at us."

Maruk and Phil Russell got into a shouting match behind the Calgary net at 17:40, with each collecting a roughing penalty. But whatever frustrations the Capitals were feeling couldn't be used to advantage.

Langway, looking more puzzled than upset, said later, "When you score three goals off bodies, it's just not your night."