LANDOVER -- Suddenly, the Washington Capitals have that monster goal scorer their fans have been screaming for.
Last night, Peter Bondra went where no other Washington Capital in history has gone before -- to the top of the NHL's goal-scoring list.
Bondra scored his first hat trick of the season for goals 27, 28 and 29, to join Quebec's Owen Nolan and Detroit's Ray Sheppard in a first-place tie for the goal-scoring lead.
The stunning performance, which had the 15,721 fans on their feet in a frenzy, anchored the Capitals 6-3 victory over the Hartford Whalers.
Bondra's outburst couldn't have come at a better time for the Capitals, who are in a must-win situation, as they chase a playoff berth.
Going into last night's game, Washington was in virtual three-way tie for the sixth, seventh and eighth playoff spots. With this victory, they improved their record to 18-17-7 and increase their points total to 43 and take sole possession of sixth, ahead of the New York Rangers and Hartford.
Tonight, the Capitals will try to keep it going on the road against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In all the excitement over Bondra, who was indeed "Smokin' ", a strong performance by rookie goalie Jim Carey, who had 26 saves, was nearly forgotten.
While Bondra did not score in the third period, the Capitals kept up the production with goals from rookie defenseman Sergei Gonchar -- his first in the NHL -- and Mike Eagles -- his first as a Capital.
Hartford got goals from Andrew Cassels, Adam Burt and Ted Drury.
Bondra scored twice in the second period.
With 2:39 gone in the period, Dave Poulin made a pretty pass that got Bondra ahead of the defense and brought the crowd to its feet. He rushed in, beat Hartford goalie Sean Burke out of his skates and swept a backhander into the net for a 2-1 Caps lead.
Minutes later, while the Capitals were on a power play, Washington goalie Jim Carey stopped a short-handed breakaway by center Mark Janssens. At that instant, Caps center Joe Juneau was called for tripping, but the Capitals escaped without allowing a goal.
When Whalers defenseman Chris Pronger was called for holding with 8:27 left in the period, it was again Bondra who cashed in.
And for the second time last night, it was Juneau and Calle Johansson contributing assists.
This time Bondra skated into the circle and fired a wrist shot for the hat trick at 12:03, for goal No. 29 and was rewarded with a standing ovation during which the fans hurled the travel mugs they had received as the night's give-away onto the ice.
Play was delayed, but it didn't seem to disrupt the Capitals' concentration.
Defenseman Craig Berube, who had refused to fight in the first period against Scott Daniels and thereby gained the Capitals the first power play Bondra scored on, defended himself against Daniels this time. Both were given five-minute fighting penalties, but Daniels also received a 10-minute misconduct.