The Washington Capitals, who have torn down so many barriers this season, could not add a first-ever success in the Montreal Forum to the list of milestones tonight.

With former Washington captain Ryan Walter scoring two goals, including the game-winner, the Montreal Canadiens whipped Washington, 4-1, and sent the Capitals away without a victory for the 23rd time.

Walter broke a 1-1 tie with a power-play deflection of a Larry Robinson slap shot at 8:34 of the second period, then wrapped up the scoring into an empty net with 57 seconds remaining.

It gave Walter 25 goals and his 62 points lead the Canadiens in scoring. Walter also threw some solid checks, once drawing a verbal warning from Washington's Randy Holt for ramming Bobby Gould into the boards.

Afterward, Walter explained his seeming passivity during the first half of the season, when his all-star selection was criticized because he had not displayed the physical hockey of his days in Washington.

"I haven't told anybody, but I've played most of this season with problems caused by the dislocated shoulder I suffered with Team Canada last spring," Walter said. "It's just coming back and it hasn't exactly been great up to now.

"It's a lot different here from Washington, because they expect you to win every game. We're fifth overall in the league and a lot of places you figure that's not bad. But here they say that's terrible. I think that can be positive. When they expect so much, you give a little more."

The Capitals, winding up a six-game road trip, showed obvious weariness and were outplayed most of the night. When they did get good chances, they repeatedly were foiled by goalie Rick Wamsley, who stopped 26 shots.

Washington's only goal was produced by Scott Stevens on a vicious drive over Wamsley's left shoulder from the left-wing circle at 16:31 of the first period. It matched an earlier score by another rookie defenseman wearing No. 3, Montreal's Ric Nattress, who connected on a long drive from the right-wing boards while goalie Pat Riggin was hopelessly screened. It was Nattress' first NHL goal.

After Walter's tie breaker, Keith Acton extended the Canadiens' advantage to 3-1 early in the third period, as he cut past Stevens and converted Guy Lafleur's pass from behind the net.

Incredibly, for the fifth time in the six games on this road trip, a goal was disallowed that later was conclusively proven to have been legally scored.

The victim was Montreal's Craig Ludwig, a rookie out of the University of North Dakota. Ludwig deflected a Pierre Mondou shot late in the first period and Riggin juggled the puck, then reached back and grabbed it. The goal judge turned on the red light, but referee Denis Morel ruled no goal, to the disgust of many of the 16,988 fans.

A photograph later showed the puck in the air behind the goal line.

"The only thing I saw when it happened was the glove come out of the back of the net," Ludwig said. "At first, I didn't know the puck was even in the glove. I didn't complain much, because it was a judgment call and I guess the ref was screened by some players."

Washington had seemingly legal goals disallowed in New York, Vancouver and Edmonton; in Los Angeles the Kings were deprived of a score.

The Capitals, who ended the trip with a 2-3-1 record, got some consolation from the fact that the New York Islanders were beaten at home by Detroit, so Washington remained only a point back in the fight for second place in the Patrick Division.

"I'm glad they're doing well, but not against us," Walter said.