As they were booed by the home fans, criticized by their coach and beaten by an average hockey team, the Washington Capitals saw a little more of their season and a few more of their hopes fade away.

If their year comes down to a point or two at the end, they can circle last night on their calendar, a 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets before 11,919 at Capital Centre.

"I don't know," Capitals Coach Bryan Murray said tersely. "I've already counted a handful of those games. I don't have enough fingers left."

The Capitals could have climbed back into second place in the Patrick Division and moved within four points of first-place Philadelphia. Instead, they fell back to .500 (22-22-6) and are nearer fifth than first.

The Jets broke from a 1-1 tie in the second period with goals by Dale Hawerchuk and rookie Iain Duncan to get only their third victory ever here. The Capitals got a second-period goal from Bob Gould and one from Mike Gartner with 59 seconds left in the game.

In between, they played sluggishly and sloppily, leaving their fans unhappy and their coach furious.

"That was one of the worst hockey games," Murray said. "We played like we did the first half of the season. They {the Jets} were no more interested in playing than we were, but we gave them a reason to get interested. They wind up going into the third period with a 3-1 lead and then they get interested. We hustled back at the end. Sure we did. We pressed and everything. But it's hard to make everything up in the final 57 seconds."

Asked if he'd told his players much the same thing, he said: "I told them they cheated on themselves. We had a chance for two points and we gave the game away. We just can't give clubs a reason to play well here. I'm not putting down Winnipeg, but this is a team we should beat. It appears we don't play well in games like this."

The Capitals play Montreal on Friday and Philadelphia on Sunday, and Murray said: "We'll probably play good against those teams. It appears that's the way the season is going to go."

Tonight, it should have gone some other way. The Capitals outshot the Jets, 36-24, in the game. The Capitals outshot the Jets, 10-6, in the second period, but the Jets put two of their shots in the net. Washington also had six power-play chances that produced one goal.

Winnipeg goalie Daniel Berthiaume celebrated his 22nd birthday by stopping 34 shots and winning his 12th game. The only good news for the Capitals was the play of their goalie, Clint Malarchuk. He stopped 21 shots and kept his team in the game.

Later, the Capitals complained about the quality of their home ice, using it as one explanation for so many bad passes and missed shots.

"I don't want to use that as an excuse," Rod Langway said, "but it's bad when you have to play on ice like that. The puck was bouncing away all night. We just couldn't get going, but they had to play on the same ice and they got going."

The tone for the game was set in the first period when the Capitals missed two power-play chances, then fell behind at 17:39 when Randy Carlyle skated from a scramble in front of the Washington net and flipped the puck past Malarchuk.

The Capitals tied it early in the second period after Winnipeg's Dave Ellett got his second straight holding penalty.

The penalty was called 2:42 into the period, and the goal was a beauty. On a three-man rush, Mike Ridley flipped the puck across the net to Larry Murphy, who passed it to Christian on the left side.

Christian caught the pass in stride and flicked it past Berthiaume for a 1-1 tie.

That was the last good news for the Capitals. Winnipeg took the lead for good at 10:04 when Hawerchuk caught a deflected pass on the left side, skated down the ice and routinely flipped it behind Langway and past Malarchuk.

Washington's Ed Kastelic was called for holding at 11:45, but the Capitals killed that one off. However, at 14:25, Langway was called for holding, and the Jets converted that into a 3-1 lead.

They got the power-play goal at 16:07 after Ray Neufeld missed a slap shot from the left side. Malarchuk knocked the puck back in front of the net, but Duncan came across and slapped the puck between three Capitals for his 14th goal.

The Capitals got their fourth power-play chance at the end of the second period when Neufeld was called for cross-checking Mike Gartner. The Jets killed off the first 27 seconds of that penalty, and the Capitals were booed as they left the ice for the intermission.

The Jets' defense controlled most of the third period, but the Capitals did close to 3-2 after Murray lifted Malarchuk 18:19 into the third period. Gartner got his 32nd goal 42 seconds later, coming out of a scramble in front of the net and slipping the puck in the net. Winnipeg 1 2 0 3 Washington 0 1 1 2

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Winnipeg, Carlyle 9 (Taglianetti, Duncan), 17:39. PENALTIES -- Ellett, Win (hooking), 7:42; Boschman, Win (holding), 13:19.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 2, Washington, Christian 22 (Murphy, Ridley), 3:27 (pp). 3, Winnipeg, Hawerchuk 28, 10:04. 4, Winnipeg, Duncan 14 (Neufeld, Hawerchuk), 16:07 (pp). PENALTIES -- Ellett, Win (holding), 2:22; Kastelic, Was (slashing), 11:45; Langway, Was (holding), 14:25; Neufeld, Win (cross-checking), 19:23.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- 5, Washington, Gartner 32 (Hunter, Murphy), 19:01. PENALTIES -- Taglianetti, Win (roughing), 1:16; Stevens, Was (roughing), 1:16; McBain, Win (holding), 1:33; Stevens, Was, double minor (hooking, unsportsmanlike conduct), 6:18; Olausson, Win (hooking), 7:17; Marois, Win (holding), 10:45.

Shots on goal: Winnipeg 12 6 6 24 Washington 13 10 13 36

Power-play Opportunities -- Winnipeg 1 of 4; Washington 1 of 6.

Goalies -- Winnipeg, Berthiaume (36 shots-34 saves). Washington, Malarchuk (24-21).

A -- 11,919.

Referee -- Denis Morel. Linesmen -- Wayne Bonney, Gord Broseker.