The last time they played the Montreal Canadiens, the Washington Capitals jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first 2 1/2 minutes and wound up 8-4 losers.

Saturday night in the Forum (WDCA-TV-20 at 8 p.m.), the Capitals launch their 28th attempt to win a game from the Stanley Cup champions. Nobody is predicting victory this time, but the Capitals are confident that the disaster 13 days ago at Capital Centre will constitute a valuable learning experience rather than a nagging depressant.

"I'm still convinced we'll beat the Montreal Canadiens," said Guy Charron, who scored two goals in the Capitals' record-breaking 9-3 victory at Colorado Thursday.

"The more games we play against them, the more we learn. We had that 3-0 lead and blew it away and now we know to win against them we have to play tight, a good strong basic game up and down.

"Other teams come in here and beat or tie them with a strong defensive game. We'll get our scoring chances, but we can't play a wide-open game. We have to stop them from getting opportunities."

"It's always easy to get up against that hockey team," said defenseman Gord Lane. "That's the pinnacle. Last time, in my opinion, when we got up on them we sat and watched. We just stood there and watched them play."

"After we got ahead, we just laid back and didn't take the play to them," said defenseman Rick Green.

"We let them get going and you can't do that against this team."

"That last game, we made some mistakes and bang bang, they were scoring on them," said Dennis Maruk, another two-goal scorer in Colorado.

"We have to come out the same way tomorrow, then be careful of our checks. We left guys open and got mixed up last time. I think it would be a good thing to put somebody on (Guy) Lafleur. He did the damage to us."

The Lafleur-Pierre Mondou-Steve Shutt line accounted for seven of the eight Montreal goals at Capital Centre and Coach Danny Belisle said he would try to give Lafleur some extra attention Saturday.

"When I see their lineup, I'll try to figure some ways to slow them down," Belisle said. "But it's so tough to check anybody on that team because he (Coach Scotty Bowman) juggles them around so much. It's tough to match lines with Montreal, especially in their building.

"We have to go in with the attitude that we're just playing another team. Mentally, when we play teams in that echelon we're too concerned about our opposition. If we just play our game, we can play with anybody."

Dennis Hextall, the newest Capital, came from a Detroit team that was able to beat Montreal a few times, including a Stanley Cup playoff decision in the Forum last April. He agreed that there was no future in a shooting contest with the Canadiens.

"You have to check them well and play them for a one-goal game," Hextall said. "If you can get a one- or two-goal lead, you have to play a solid game and not give them many chances. You can be up three or four goals and they'll be back in the game in a few minutes.

"With Detroit, we put Paul Woods on Guy Lafleur and tried to eliminate him. But the key to their game is the defense. You have to give it a lot of attention. If you play them close, you can beat them, but you have to be ready for a hard game, and you won't blow them out."

Hextall recalled how Detroit put on a strong finish to reach the playoffs a year ago. He does not see why the Capitals cannot do the same, despite their precarious situation.

"To say we can't make the playoffs is crazy," Hextall said. "We've got a great shot at it. We need four points on this trip, then we have to go home and make a run for it. With a break or two, we could take home more than four points.

"There's a lot of scoring punch on this team but we're near the bottom in goals against. We have to work on that. You don't climb upstairs all at once, you go up one at a time. That's how we've got to do it."

"I know our playoff situation isn't the best," said General Manager Max McNab, "but the players think they can make it. That's the most important thing."