For the Montreal Canadiens, it was a routine evening. Steve Shutt scored twice and the Canadiens rapped the Washington Capitals, 6-3, tonight for their 18th straight success against Washington in the Forum.
For defenseman Pierre Bouchard, it was something special. The 32-year-old Capital who played for five Stanley Cup championship teams here, made his first visit in an opposition uniform and received a thunderous ovation from the 16,899 fans following a third-period goal.
As Forum contests are never easy for the Capitals, this was not an easy night for Bouchard.
"The first two periods I thought I had ice cubes -- I was frozen, I couldn't move," Bouchard said. "The third period I started to get better.
"It was nice the way the people cheered. It's the same feeling as when you're dead, then everyone appreciates you. I had that feeling without being dead."
The Capitals' hope of a first-ever victory here did not die until Shutt converted a Mark Napier pass for a three-goal margin with 6:05 left.
Bouchard's blast from the left point, with Alan Hangsleben screening goalie Bunny Larocque, lifted Washington within 5-3. Building momentum, the Capitals pressed and Paul Mulvey shot wide with a half-empty net beckoning. It was crucial, because Shutt came back to put it away.
Sunday morning the Capitals face an even more difficult task, trying to return home through the snow to keep a 7 p.m. date with the Colorado Rockies at the Capital Centre. The plan was to take a 7:30 a.m. flight to Boston, then find the most feasible route to Washington.
The way to beat Montreal, which the Capitals finally discovered on Feb. 19, in the teams' 35th meeting, is to avoid penalties, because the Canadians' 31 percent power play is so potent. The lesson apparently was forgotten, however.
Three times tonight Montreal was presented an extra-man situation and each time it capitalized, although one score technically came two seconds after the penalty expired. The first two lifted Montreal into one-goal leads, the third extended its advantage to 4-2.
"They're quick," said Coach Gary Green. "They see the holes and go right for them. When they get that extra man, you know you're in trouble."
The Capitals neutralized Shutt's opening goal on a fine play by Dennis Maruk, who passed from behind the Montreal net to Hangsleben, racing in from the right-wing circle. The converted defenseman easily beat Larocque for his eighth goal.
"I felt good tonight," said Maruk playing only his second game since a four-month layoff for knee surgery. "I was skating good and I felt that I was in the game this time."
Rod Langway scored for Montreal two seconds after a penalty to Robert Picard expired, but once again Washington pulled even. It was a powerplay goal, the Capitals' fourth in 29 chances, and it was officially scored as unassisted for Antero Lehtonen, although referee Ron Hoggarth deserved dome recognition for his assistance.
With Montreal's Rick Chartraw off for tripping, Mark Lofthouse cut down puck-carrier Langway behind the Montreal net. As Langway fell, the puck skidded to Lehtonen in the left-wing circle and the Finn blasted it past Larocque, who was still looking behind the goal awaiting the penalty that never came.
The Capitals gave that one back as Glen Currie, trying to pass to Rick Green deep in the Washington end, watched it bounce over Green's stick to Napier, who easily scored from 15 feet.
There were many strange bounces and Green said, "We had trouble controlling it. Some areas of the ice were pretty badly chopped up."