LANDOVER -- Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld likes to say the Capitals win as a team and lose as a team. Last night, there was certainly enough blame to go around when the Boston Bruins came out of nowhere for a 4-3 victory at USAir Arena.
"There was no sense of desperation or commitment from the beginning and that attitude was maintained for 60 minutes," said Schoenfeld. "We had a few guys who worked hard, but as a team, we weren't willing to pay the price.
"The way we played a bad break could beat us and Jimmy [Carey] not handling the puck was the bad break. But it shouldn't have come down to that."
The situation was just the opposite for the Bruins. They had lost three straight and five of their past six. They were "so far down in the dumps it wasn't even funny," said their goalie, Blaine Lacher.
And in the third period, when they were down 2-1 against a Capitals team that had not lost in more than two years when leading after two periods, the Bruins were digging into depths they didn't know they had.
Boston's Josef Stumpel, Kevin Stevens and Sandy Moger scored three goals in 2:55 to forge a 4-2 lead. And Washington's only answer was Peter Bondra, the Caps' leading scorer, who continued to rip the nets. He scored Washington's first and last goals last night, with defenseman Calle Johansson scoring in between.
"We were a desperate club and we played like one tonight," said Boston coach Steve Kasper, whose team is 4-7-2. "The encouraging thing is that we kept our composure. It was a win this team desperately needed."
Washington, which had won five of its past six before last night, is 9-5 as it prepares for back-to-back games Friday at Toronto and Saturday back at USAir Arena against Chicago.
Last night, the Capitals played before one of the smallest crowds in franchise history. Just 8,865 fans showed up, the smallest since 8,312 came to see a game against Philadelphia on Feb. 2, 1994.
"We have to put on a good show in this building to get people to come," said Caps defenseman Sylvain Cote, who made a terrific cross-ice pass to Bondra for Washington's first goal. "Having a huge crowd gives you a mental lift. Everything is better when an 18,000-seat arena has 18,000 people in it."
Nothing was good last night.
When Bondra scored Washington's first goal with a blistering slap shot that whizzed past Lacher at 2:36 of the first period, the Caps right wing skated to the glass to celebrate the goal with the fans, but there were so few people in the area, there was no one waiting at the glass to slap hands.
And when Cam Neely scored a power-play goal with 5:53 to play in the second to end Washington's string of 34 consecutive power play kills and forge a 1-1 tie, the cheers were nearly as loud for Boston as they had been for Washington. It was Neely's seventh goal of the season and he was able to drive in alone on Carey and put the puck between his knees.
Johansson's follow-up on a Bondra rebound again gave Washington the lead with a minute left in the second period, and despite seeming sluggish, Washington did appear in control.
"But I don't think we played real smart all game long," said Caps left wing Kelly Miller. "We made a lot of mistakes and beat ourselves."
What turned out to be the game-winner came with 10:51 to play, Boston defenseman Don Sweeney won a battle for the puck with Caps defenseman Sergei Gonchar. That started a Bruins attack that Moger finished with a wrist shot that caught the inside of the far post and bounced in for the 4-2 advantage.
"That was a pretty nice shot off a pretty nice two-on-one break," Carey said. "Nine times out of 10, you're going to score on a shot like that. But their third goal, the puck just bounced out of my glove. It just popped out. It wasn't anything I planned. It was just a bad overall game for us."
NOTES: Defenseman/forward Jim Johnson (wrist ligaments) was assigned to the injured reserve yesterday. . . . The Caps will demonstrate their hockey skills in the Topps NHL SuperSkills contest Sunday at 2 p.m.. Admission is $10 and for that money, every fans will get a free ticket to a future game. The proceeds go to the Children's Cancer Foundation.