With a slight change in script, the Washington Capitals for the second straight night battled back from a 3-1 deficit against one of the National Hockey League's elite clubs.

Instead of victory, tonight the Capitals had to settle for a 4-4 tie against Montreal as the Canadiens' Bobby Smith got his second goal of the game early in the third period to conclude the scoring.

Although Washington has won only once in 27 tries at the Forum, it could not be unhappy with the result. A lengthy travel day, plus injuries to several forwards, made it a most difficult point to earn.

"It's a good point for us," said Coach Bryan Murray. "We were short-handed, with a number of good players hurt, and we really showed fatigue in the third period."

Dave Christian scored two goals for the Capitals, now undefeated in 21 overtime games since they lost at Winnipeg exactly two years ago.

The Capitals' principal hero, although such status seemed most unlikely at midgame, was goaltender Pete Peeters, who stopped 39 shots, including seven in the five-minute overtime.

Peeters gave up probably the worst goal of Washington's season in the first period, when he missed Gaston Gingras' shot from the red line to give Montreal a 2-1 lead.

Of his 90-foot miss, Peeters said, "There was no excuse for it. It was a bad goal. I watched it, I was on it and then I lost it."

When rookie Kjell Dahlin's 28th goal boosted the Canadiens' margin to 3-1 early in the second period, the weary Capitals were in trouble. Just as they did in Tuesday's 5-4 victory over the New York Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y., however, they scored three straight goals to take a 4-3 lead into the final period.

It was Peeters who gave the Capitals an initial lift, moving out to stop Randy Bucyk on a setup by Mario Tremblay.

Bengt Gustafsson then sent a billiards-style pass to Christian near the left post and, after goalie Patrick Roy made the initial stop, Christian put the rebound past him for his second goal of the game and 32nd of the season.

"The puck was following me around tonight," Christian said. "Gus' pass hit a Montreal stick Smith's and went into Larry Robinson's skates. I was able to tap it through his skates and, when I went in and shot, the puck came right back to me and I had the whole net."

Peeters stood tall again, foiling Mats Naslund on a breakaway, before Scott Stevens tied the game with a drive from the left point on which Lou Franceschetti effectively screened Roy.

The same routine occurred once more before the period ended. Peeters blocked a deflected drive by Gingras with the shaft of his stick and, moments later at the other end, Mike Gartner stole the puck from Bob Gainey and fed Larry Murphy for a drive off Roy's glove.

Smith tied the score early in the third period on a weird shot from the left-wing boards that struck Stevens, who was battling Naslund in the crease, and popped past Peeters.

"I was in front of the net and Naslund was behind me," Stevens said. "It caught my shoulder and went in. I never saw it."

That was hardly the end of the excitement. Both teams had a number of scoring chances, including a short-handed breakaway in each direction.

Gustafsson was first, bidding for his fifth straight game-winning goal after picking Tom Kurvers' pocket. Roy, however, got his blocker on Gustafsson's shot.

Later, Gainey stole the puck from Gustafsson and went in alone. He put a good deke on Peeters, who stretched out his stick and blocked the shot when Gainey was unable to lift it.

"I came out and he put a great move on me," Peeters said. "I moved to my right in a sort of desperation dive and I got my stick on the ice and felt it hit me. I looked into the net and fortunately it wasn't there. I got a break on that one."

Roy made one overtime save, gloving a tough shot by Kevin Hatcher. Peeters' seven included a good stop on Dahlin, followed by a pad save on Naslund's rebound.

Greg Adams, troubled by a charley horse, did not play. Mike Gartner skated only one shift in the third period when he could not grip a stick with his injured hand. Jorgen Pettersson left early with a knee problem. Craig Laughlin was hampered by a bruised arm.

With all those injuries, Mark Taylor and Peter Andersson were taking shifts at left wing in the overtime.

"It was a real character thing," Murray said. "We showed the ability to dig down when things were tough. When we got one goal, everybody just picked things up and we came on very well."

Murray felt that referee Don Koharski should have given Robinson a major penalty for striking Franceschetti near the right eye late in regulation time. Koharski, who did not see the foul, ruled it an accidental, no-penalty situation after talking with the linesmen.