The Washington Capitals completed a three-game season sweep of the Quebec Nordiques last night, a feat that can best be appreciated by those who played in some of the embarrassing defeats the Nordiques inflicted on Washington after Quebec first entered the National Hockey League in 1979.

Bengt Gustafsson recorded a goal and two assists to earn the No. 1 star citation in the Capitals' 4-3 triumph before 15,245 at Capital Centre. Then he recalled those early losses, like the 11-7 debacle here in which three Nordiques had hat tricks.

"I remember those games, sure," Gustafsson said. "They give you a lot of chances, but they can put it in if you give them a few chances. Tonight we let them get going in our end late in the game and they were right back in it in a hurry."

The Capitals were enjoying a 4-2 lead and had limited Quebec to only one shot in the first 12 minutes of the third period. Suddenly, instead of a relaxed bystander, Washington goalie Pete Peeters became a target for a rapid-fire shooting exercise.

After Peeters made a point-blank stop on Alain Cote, Anton Stastny took a pass from brother Peter and raced in alone on the right wing to score a short-side goal at 12:51.

The rest of the way, it was nail-biting time. With 2 1/2 minutes left, Peeters got his left pad on Cote's deflection of a blueline blast by Randy Moller. It was a game-saver and it made a testing, close-up shot by Peter Stastny 30 seconds later look routine.

"I can't consciously say my eyes saw it (the deflection), but I did kick my left foot out, so maybe they did," Peeters said. "I was screened and I just tried to stand up. I'd have to say that was a lucky one."

Clint Malarchuk made a few that looked lucky at the other end, stopping shorthanded breakaways by Gaetan Duchesne, Jorgen Pettersson and Dave Christian.

"We must have had five clean breakaways and a lot of two-on-ones," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "When you get that type of chance and not one breakaway goal, something's wrong. In this case, I credit the goaltender. Malarchuk played very well."

The Capitals' special teams, somewhat ineffective during the recently concluded five-game road trip, rebounded in the first period with three goals, two on power plays and another shorthanded.

Christian's 13th extra-man score, on a setup by Gustafsson, opened the scoring. Peter Stastny quickly got it back on an off-target power-play deflection of Wilf Paiement's shot, the puck striking Peeters in the left knee and skipping behind him.

Peter Andersson sent Washington ahead to stay with a power-play drive from the blueline, on which Craig Laughlin did a superb job of screening Malarchuk.

"He couldn't see a thing and it was a good shot," Laughlin said. "They announced first that I got it and I wish I had, because it would have ended my home jinx (all nine of his goals have come on the road). But it never touched me, just went off the goalie's blocker and stick."

Before the period ended Gustafsson took a pass from Christian and skated up the right wing. As he cut from right-wing circle to left, he was whacked in the head by Gilbert Delorme's stick, but maintained control and, after luring Malarchuk out of the net, sent the puck between the goalie's legs.

"I lost my balance for a second after he hit me and all that was left was to try to put it between his legs," Gustafsson said.

Lou Franceschetti made it 4-1 in the second period with his second goal in two games, after going 27 without one. He hit from the left-wing circle after taking Mike Gartner's pass in the midst of three Nordiques.

"I kind of shot without even looking," Franceschetti said. "I just tried to put it on net and it wound up a perfect shot inside the post. It had to be to get in."

Michel Goulet's 26th goal started the Quebec comeback late in the second period, as a carom off Rod Langway's leg left him open on the left wing. Then it was time for things to close up, as the Capitals' first home game since Dec. 10 became their fourth straight one-goal triumph at the Centre.

Although Quebec did not threaten in the last minute of the game, there were two events of note. Moller slashed Alan Haworth in the right ankle after Haworth put a tough shot on net and the Nordiques were penalized for having too many men on the ice.

The normally placid Haworth, a husband for two days, limped across the dressing room and said, "It was gutless and mean, pulling something like that at the end of the game."

The Capitals did not protest when referee Denis Morel declined to award a penalty shot for the extra-man offense. Rule 18 (b) calls for a penalty shot if the illegal substitution in the last two minutes is "deliberate" and not even Murray expects the referee to read a coach's mind. Maple Leafs 5, Red Wings 4

Peter Ihnacak scored his sixth goal of the season with three seconds left as Toronto rallied from a 4-0 deficit to win in Detroit.

The victory was in large part due to the outstanding goaltending of Don Edwards, who turned aside 24 shots in relief of starter Ken Wregget.

Russ Courtnall and Marian Stastny scored 2:30 apart early in the final period to tie the score at 4 and Ihnacak finished the rally when he poked Miroslav Frycer's rebound past goalie Mark Laforest. Sabres 6, Rangers 1

In Buffalo, Norm Lacombe, who was called up from Rochester earlier in the day, scored two goals to lead the Sabres over New York.

Going into the game, Lacombe, a first-round draft pick in 1983, had appeared in 30 NHL games and had two goals and four assists.

Gilles Hamel, Dave Andreychuk, John Tucker and Gates Orlando scored the other Buffalo goals. Reijo Ruotsalainen spoiled goalie Tom Barrasso's shutout bid at 13:04 of the third period. Penguins 4, Bruins 3

In Pittsburgh, defensemen Moe Mantha and Doug Bodger scored third-period goals to lead the Penguins over Boston. $&% Whalers 4, Islanders 3

In Uniondale, N.Y., Scot Kleinendorst's first goal of the season and a 50-foot goal by Dean Evason helped Hartford to the victory, only the Whalers' second in 11 tries at Nassau Coliseum. Blues 9, Black Hawks 6

In St. Louis, Greg Paslawski scored three goals to lead the Blues over Chicago in a wide-open game. The victory increased the Blues' lead in the Norris Division to six points over Chicago and extended St. Louis' unbeaten streak to 4-0-1 in its last five games. The Black Hawks lost for the first time in five games. North Stars 6, Jets 5

In Winnipeg, Steve Payne's second goal of the game early in the third period led Minnesota to the victory.