After 2 minutes 25 seconds, the scoreboard read "Capitals 3 Canadiens 0" and late arrivals in the crowd of 13,479 at Capital Centre were wondering who was masquerading as Le Bleu Blanc et Rouge. By game's end, they knew it was just a bunch of superstars playing possum.
With Pierre Mondou recording his first three-goal game in the NHL and Guy Lafleur and Steve Shutt amassing five points each, the Stanley Cup champions below the Capitals right out of the building, 8-4.
Mondou and Lafleur were on the ice for seven Montreal goals, including one power play and Mondou's shorthanded goal that completed the scoring. Shutt was out for six. Matched against them most of the time was a line composed of rookie Gary Rissling, second-year winger Tom Rowe and center Dennis Maruk. That trio was overmatched, to say the least.
"Yes, we try to take advantage of that," said Lafleur, who now has 90 points in strong pursuit of a fourth straight NHL scoring title. "We let them play their style at the beginning and that's why we were in trouble. I thought maybe we couldn't come back. But we got two goals and were able to get back in there and then things got going."
"That was my first hat trick in the NHL and I am happy for it," Mondou said. "But when Lafleur and Shutt are hot anybody in the center can do that. Guy is the best right winger and Shutt is the best left winger and I am lucky to be playing within them."
Washington Coach Danny Belisle said he made no attempt to match lines, although the home team has the last change. Montreal's Scotty Bowman, with four regulars missing, was in no position to do any fancy juggling.
"I wasn't matching lines or trying to avoid anything," Belisle said. "We can't match lines with them. To beat them, we have to have 18 guys playing well, they have to have some off and we have to get some lucky breaks."
"With the lines we had I couldn't do anything anyway," Bowman said. "They were probably looking for aggressive play."
Rissling sat out 12 minutes, moving past 100 in penalties after only 17 games, and Rowe and Blair Stewart earned fistic decisions. Additionally, Lafleur was lured into a rare pair of minor penalties. But aggressiveness does not beat Montreal and the Capitals discovered that an early three-goal lead is no guarantee of victory either.
Maruk netted his 18th goal after 68 seconds on a nifty rebound of a drive by Robert Picard. The score was unexpected, since a penalty on Rissling after just 10 seconds left the Caps facing a fearsome foursome of Lafleur, Mondou, Larry Robinson and Serge Savard.
It was still four against four when Guy Charron connected at 2:09, after Ryan Walter took the puck from Montreal defender Brian Engblom.
Then at 2:25 Bob Sirois took the puck away from Robinson and poked it to Rolf Edberg, who connected from the right-wing circle for the fastest start in Capital history.
"We were holding the puck instead of making quick moves the way we usually do, and they were taking advantage," Lafleur said.
"We had only four defensemen dressed, we didn't have everybody in the right place and we played a tough game last night in Toronto," Bowman said. "I figured this would be a good test tonight, three goals down and 57 minutes left."
The Canadiens passed the test convincingly. Goalie Bunny Larocque, who had missed three of the first four shots fired in his direction, steadied and allowed only one more. That was a Sirois blast that pulled Washington up to 5-4 late in the second period and marked the Capitals' 1,000th goal in their going-on- five years.
Meanwhile, the opposition total was reaching 1,680, as the forechecking Canadiens applied irresistible pressure. Mondou scored at 6:35, then Lafleur made one of those super plays that leaves the opposition shell-shocked.
Cutting over the Washington blue line, Lafleur made a blind backhand pass toward Shutt, who was not ready for it but nevertheless retrieved the puck in the left-wing corner and fed Lafleur in the slot. Taking the pass on his backhand, Lafleur switched the puck to his forehand and drilled it past goalie Gary Inness.
Distracted by a flurry of high sticks and fists in the second period, Montreal was not able to pull even until the 11-minute mark. The tying score came on a power-play blast by Savard, with Charron off for holding Mondou. Teammate Pierre Larouche was so enamored of Mondou's diving technique that he shook Mondou's hand as he skated to the bench following referee Bruce Hood's call.
Shutt converted a fine pass from Robinson at 13:09 to put the Canadiens ahead to stay, then Mondou rebounded Shutt's shot off the post 18 seconds later for a 5-3 lead.
Sirois trimmed that and Rowe had two opportunities to achieve a tie, but he blasted one drive into Larocque and fired another over the net.
The third period was no contest, as Montreal scored three times and limited the Capitals to only two shots. Defenseman Gord Lane tripped and fell to smooth Yvan Lambert's path to the sixth Montreal score, then Lafleur faked Rowe like a puppet on a string before blazing his 40th goal past Inness. Mondou closed the scoring with his shorthanded score for No. 20 of the season at 8:24.
"They just wouldn't let up," Belisle said. "We didn't go into a shell with a 3-0 lead. We tried to force it. They were just too much. I just wish we'd come out like that last night (against Vancouver in a 5-1 loss). We'd have blown them out of the rink."
For a concluding note of sadness, three high-school pals of Rowe drove down from American International College in Springfield, Mass. to watch him play. They arrived in time to watch the last -15 minutes, which weren't nearly as exciting as the first 2 1/2.