The Washington Capitals have seen enough of Mike Liut. The Hartford Whalers goaltender defeated the Capitals for the second time in eight days tonight, stopping 40 shots in a 2-0 victory.

The shutout was Liut's 11th in the NHL and his first since he was traded here by St. Louis Feb. 22. Bengt Gustafsson put the only shot past him last week at Capital Centre, when he stopped 32 in a 3-1 win.

"He should have gotten all three stars," said Washington's Bob Carpenter, who put five shots on goal and spent much of the night shaking his head. "You could say we should have shot higher when he was down, or whatever, but he made so many great saves, we should have had five goals no matter what we did."

"Simply, he won the game for them," said Mike Gartner, who was foiled seven times. "We put more pressure on him in the third period (17 shots), so he probably looked more spectacular then, but he made good saves throughout the game."

Most of the crowd of 12,737 stayed to cheer Liut afterward and he acknowledged the plaudits from the fans and from his appreciative teammates, who mobbed him. But he admitted the Whalers' absence from the upcoming playoffs took away a bit of the pleasure.

"That's nice, to have them behind you like that, and it's great to have a shutout, but I don't put a lot of stock in them," Liut said. "It's difficult to shut teams down with the league so wide open."

Asked what he could do for an encore, Liut said, "Next year. I guess that's all there is to look forward to now. I don't like it, but I knew that was the situation when I came here. It's just that as the season comes to an end, I'm starting to think about it more.

"It's a little sad. This is the time of the year that counts and I won't be part of it. You can have a great year and, with a poor playoff, it becomes a poor year. Or you can have a bad year like the Rangers and a good playoff can change it. There's nothing like the playoffs. It's everything you've wanted."

The Capitals, who lost their fifth straight road game, insuring that they cannot top last year's total of 101 points -- they have 97 with two games left -- will be in the playoffs. After tonight's shutout, only their second of the season, they were trying to think positively as they looked ahead to the New York Islanders.

"We can't let ourselves get frustrated," Gartner said. "We may be running into a hot goalie in the playoffs, too, the way we did last year. We have to realize we lost because of Liut and remember the good signs. We had a lot of good chances and we shut them down pretty good."

"I thought we really picked them apart at times, as far as attacking their defense," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We don't usually get two-on-ones, breaks into the hole and rebounds the way we did tonight. We just couldn't put it in. The two games we saw Liut he was outstanding -- unbelievable."

Asked if he was sorry he did not see the Capitals more often, Liut laughed and said, "Not really. All that stuff turns around sooner or later. And I wouldn't want to see that many shots every night."

The Whalers scored early in the first and second periods, then hung on while rarely threatening against Pat Riggin, now winless in his last eight starts.

Greg Malone, who left for the night with a back injury not long after, produced the first goal. He wiped out Mike McEwen behind the Washington net, picked up the puck and stepped out front to beat Riggin with a shot that caromed off the post at the goalie's left.

Rookie Ray Ferraro made it 2-0 by splitting the Washington defense. Dave Christian threw down Hartford's Jack Brownschidle at the Washington blueline and the puck squirted away from the Whaler defender. Ferraro pounced on it, cut between Scott Stevens and Larry Murphy, and flipped the puck past Riggin.

"We're not scoring any goals for Pat at all," Murray said. "Out of 40 shots tonight, we probably had 15 quality chances. They probably had three or four they didn't score on."

In the third period, Murray reunited Gartner with Carpenter and Christian with Gustafsson. He indicated, however, that it was not a permanent move.

"When we're even or ahead, we can play the four lines we've set up," Murray said. "But when we're behind we have a tough time getting consistent scoring chances and I thought it was a logical approach to put them together. We got chances, but it made no difference."

The Whalers, who set a club record with their 29th victory, won a season series from Washington (2-1) for the first time in their six NHl season s.