There will be a total eclipse of the sun today, the last of this century. Washington hockey fans hope their beloved Capitals will beat the Montreal Canadiens before the next one comes around.

Coach Danny Belisle held a team meeting before the teams played at Capital Centre last night, using videotape to point out mistakes that had led to Capital losses. He also stressed the need to avoid a shootout with the Canadiens. If his words had any impact with his players, it was not evident on the ice.

The Capitals scored five goals against the Stanley Cup champions for the first time in their 29-game nonrivalry. Montreal won anyway, 8-5.

"We didn't lose through lack of effort, it was lack of personnel," Belisle said. "Man for man they're a better hockey club and if they're at their best and we're at our best, then we're second best."

Both teams have played better games and so have Washington's two goalies. Bernie Wolfe and Gary Inness each yielded four goals, several of which were of the soft variety.

The Capitals were flying at peak efficiency in the second period, holding a 4-3 lead on goal by Tom Rowe, Greg Polis, Robert Picard and Guy Charron.

Many of the 10,483 fans, who should know better by now, were dreaming of that first big victory and their voices turned the building into a maelstrom of noise. Then Mario Tremblay called for silence.

Tremblay fired a 45-foot shot from the outer edge of the right-wing circle and Wolfe raised his glove -- after the puck was past him. The score suddenly was 4-4 and Wolfe, who was making his first home-ice appearance since Dec. 17, was summoned to the bench, with Inness skating out to chants of "Ga-ry, Ga-ry."

Inness' arrival obviously gave his teammates renewed life and Bunny Larocque, at the other end, needed considerable good fortune to keep the score even. First Larocque poked the puck off Dennis Maruk's skate to terminate a breakaway, then Polis deflected a Picard drive off the post at Larocque's left, with such authority that the goal judge momentarily lit the red lamp.

Three Montreal goals in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the third period asured the visitors' 28th victory against one tie in this Norris Division competition,

While Belisle has noted the importance of preventing the opposition from mounting two-on-one and three-on-two on-two breaks, he has not been overly concerned with one-on-three situations. Yet that was how Montreal broke the deadlock.

Defenseman Brian Engblom, a University of Wisconsin product, broke down the middle and put a deke on Washington's Yvan Labre at the Capitals' blue line. Then, avoiding belated stick swipes by Picard and Bob Sirois, he beat Inness for his third goal of the season.

"You can't stop that with any system," Belisle said. "You can't make that kind of mistake and hope to recover against Montreal."

Bob Gainey, switched to left wing after starting the game on defense, boosted the Canadiens' margin to 6-4 when he outhustled the Capitals' Tom Rowe to the puck in the Washington end, following a dump by Rejean Houle, and beat Inness for his 14th goal.

The next Montreal score featured a classic move by the great Guy Lafleur. Washington's Leif Svensson, withthe Capitals shorthanded, tried to pass to fellow penalty-killer Dennis Hextall. He missed, but the puck seemed headed over the blue line until Lafleur, looking the other way, stopped it on his backhand and fed Larry Robinson for a 55-foot scoring drive. Lafleur, who earlier collected his 46th goal, was earning his 99th point and adding to his NHL scoring lead.

Rowe's 22nd goal trimmed Montreal's margin before Steve Shutt closed the scoring on Pierre Mondou's feed from behind the net.

Lafleur, who was on the ice for seven Montreal goals in the 8-4 decision here Feb. 4, was out for five this time and was unlucky not to have a hat trick himself.

It was suggested that the Capitals might be wise to put a shadow on Lafleur instead of taking pothole luck, but Montreal Coach Scotty Bowman said, "It's pretty hard to do it and it would take a lot away from the game. You'd be on the defensive more than half the game. Besides, Mondou handles the puck pretty well, too."

There were some strange developments, including two other red lights that signaled nothing but confusion. Robinson appeared to score with the game tied at 3-3, Wolfe losing the puck out of his glove, but referee Gregg Madill already had blown his whistle.

Earlier in the second period, Washington's Paul Mulvey seemingly impaled himself on the point where goal post and crossbar meet. In the process, the cage was lifted just enough for the puck to slide under from behind. The resulting red light and siren fooled many in the stands and Picard raised his stick in vain hope Madill could be conned, too.

While the Canadiens have lost only once in their last 18 games, the Capitals have gone six without a victory and are 1-7-1 in February, with an 0-5 mark at home. It seems like a good time to take a long trip, and the Capitals' next activity will take place Wednesday in Los Angeles.