The Canadiens were on an historic six-game winning streak when they entered USAir Arena. Those six victories represented the best start for a coach in NHL history and an incredible turnaround by a team that had started the season with five straight losses.
But last night Montreal and its coach, Mario Tremblay, took a back seat to the streaking Caps.
Washington won, 5-2, as goalie Jim Carey stymied the Canadiens with 21 saves. The Caps (8-3) stretched their winning streak to four games and moved into second place in the Atlantic Division, just one point behind the idle Philadelphia Flyers.
"We had three breakaways, we had three two-on-ones, but we didn't score," said Tremblay. "We have to look to the Capitals. They played a hell of a game. Even after two periods, the score was 2-2, but they were more opportunistic. They finished their checks. They had a good system. . . . And there is no doubt Bondra's two goals killed us. Bondra and [Michal] Pivonka are great hockey players."
Pivonka scored Washington's first goal 11 seconds into the opening period, as he started his first home game since returning from a contract holdout and a three-game suspension. Ken Klee, scoring his second goal of the season, forged the 2-2 tie with 9:08 gone in the second. After Bondra's two goals, Caps right wing Keith Jones, who had missed a penalty shot with 4:04 to play, scored Washington's final goal with 2:43 left.
Montreal managed goals from Pierre Turgeon and Patrice Brisebois, but 30 saves by rookie goalie Patrick Labrecque, in the first start of his career, were not enough against Washington.
"I never project," said Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld, when asked about the early, unexpected success by his team. "But I'm involved and I see how committed these guys are. And I'm not surprised at all. I see it evolving game by game."
After falling behind in the first period because of missed defensive coverage, the Caps found their footing and executed. Big defenseman Mark Tinordi, who came away with two assists, stood the Canadiens up at the blue line. When they did break through, Carey was there to make the stop.
One of the biggest came with 4:43 to go in the second period, when he impersonated an octopus, arms and legs flying in all directions as he dived across the front of the net and reach out his glove to snare the puck off the stick of Valeri Bure.
That set the stage for Bondra's two-goal outburst in the third. The first came with 3:49 gone in the final period. The right wing blazed a shot at Labrecque that left the rookie reeling. He made the initial stop, but didn't know where the puck was. Bondra found it, quickly shot it at the back of Labrecque's legs, and danced happily when the puck ricocheted into the net for a 3-2 lead.
Only seconds later, Craig Berube got the puck to Pivonka, who made a centering pass to Bondra. The right wing scooped it up and dished it behind Labrecque for his second goal in 27 seconds.
"Right now, we are the hottest team," said Bondra. "We've been playing well lately and I tried to pick my game up in the last two periods. After that first goal, the net opened up like a football field."
NOTES: Kelly Miller played in his 305th straight game, the third-longest current streak in the NHL behind Vancouver's Trevor Linden (386) and Montreal's Vincent Damphousse (338). The streak is the second longest in Caps history, behind Bob Carpenter's 422. . . . The Caps are 15-4-2 in their past 21 home games against the Canadiens, 16-18-7 at home all-time against Montreal, and trail the overall series, 23-47-13.