Three weeks ago, the New York Rangers came to Capital Centre, tried to sit on a 4-2 lead and had to settle for a 4-4 tie when the Washington Capitals produced two goals in the last four minutes.

The Rangers remembered. Taking a 4-2 margin into the third period last night, they blasted the Capitals, 7-2, disappointing a crowd of 13,766 and Washington Coach Bryan Murray.

"I told them I was embarrassed," Murray said, moments after he had loudly chewed out the team in the dressing room. "I've been proud of them many times this season, but tonight not at any time did they make an honest effort to win or to get involved in the hockey game.

"Tonight, we hardly touched the puck. The Rangers controlled it throughout the game and, when we did get it, we gave it right back. We were badly outplayed, that's obvious."

It was only the fourth loss in 27 games for Washington, but it continued an odd sequence of play against the Rangers. The Capitals have not beaten the Rangers in six meetings at Capital Centre since Dec. 26, 1980, although they have not lost in their last five trips to Madison Square Garden.

Afterward, the Capitals flew to Quebec, where they have not won in five previous visits, to take on the Nordiques, who are still steaming after Thursday's shutout by the Soviet national team.

They went, not as the second-place team they had hoped to be after last night's contest, but as a suddenly shaky club hanging on to third place in the Patrick Division by only three points over the Rangers.

Ron Duguay scored twice for the Rangers, but he was overshadowed by Robbie Ftorek, who recorded four assists and had the puck about as much as the entire Washington team. The Capitals were limited to 19 shots, a season low.

Duguay put New York ahead to stay at 11:20 of the first period, converting a rink-wide pass from Reijo Ruotsalainen. Kent-Erik Andersson's rebound made it 2-0 before Washington managed to get involved briefly.

Dennis Maruk netted his 19th goal, on a setup by Mike Gartner, 26 seconds after Andersson scored. Andre Dore made it 3-1 early in the second period, then some strange figures on the penalty clock gave Washington a chance to come back.

With the Capitals on a power play--Dore was off for interference--Maruk bumped into Ranger goalie Ed Mio, who threw a fist in Maruk's direction. While they stood nose to mask, Maruk was attacked by Ranger captain Barry Beck, who had sat out the last five games with a groin pull.

Beck was ejected as the third man in the altercation and also received a minor, as did Mio. Maruk was given two minors. The result was a lengthy four-on-three advantage for Washington, beginning at 11:44, with Beck's minor delayed.

During that segment, Gartner set up Brian Engblom for an empty-net shot, with Mio completely out of position, but Engblom hit a post.

When Dave Maloney tackled Chris Valentine, the Rangers got another delayed minor. Murray called time to settle his team and Greg Theberge, after an exchange of passes with Engblom, hit from 40 feet at 13:05 to make it 3-2.

The four-on-three situation, scheduled to expire at 14:25, ended, instead, at 13:34 when Engblom tripped Don Maloney to even the sides.

With only 12 seconds left in the period, Duguay deflected a Mark Pavelich shot for a 4-2 lead.

"Going into the third period here, we knew there was no way to sit back this time," said Ranger Tom Laidlaw. "We knew we had to keep playing hard. Even looking at the scoreboard, it wasn't an easy game."

Rookie Chris Kontos, Dave Maloney and Mikko Leinonen made it look easy as they padded the score while New York outshot Washington, 10-6. It was Kontos' first NHL goal and Maloney's came short-handed--No. 11 for the Rangers, who lead the NHL in that area.

At the end, the fans were jeering the embattled Jensen, which added to Murray's displeasure.

"I told the players that Al Jensen was the No. 2 goalie in the league and the fans were booing him because of their effort, not his," Murray said.

A week ago, it will be remembered, the Capitals owned a 14-game unbeaten streak.