Off to their best start in 14 seasons, the Washington Capitals have been revising all manner of negative history. Last night it was the Montreal Canadiens' turn.

A second-period goal by Stephane Richer proved to be the winner as the Canadiens shackled Washington over the last 25 minutes and earned a 3-2 victory, their first victory at Capital Centre in 15 visits.

In his seventh try behind the bench, Montreal Coach Jean Perron finally enjoyed a triumph over Washington, 17 months after he led the Canadiens to the Stanley Cup.

"It had to happen some time," Perron said. "We always played very well here, but we never seemed to pull it out."

Dale Hunter and Dave Christian scored for the Capitals, whose winning streak was ended at four. A crowd of 17,652 saw Washington fail on four power-play attempts, running its string of failures to 17.

"We had played so well Thursday and with so much emotion, it was disappointing not to have much cohesion out there tonight," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray. "But a lot of it was Montreal's style. They play a 1-2-2 and take the slot away from you, and they play a patient game."

This was the Capitals' third loss in eight games and all have been by one goal. They are in a four-way tie for the Patrick Division lead with New Jersey, the Islanders and Rangers. Montreal sits alone atop the Adams Division.

With the score 2-2, Washington came close twice, as shot by Larry Murphy was deflected off a post and Montreal goalie Brian Hayward made a fine save on an attempted stuff from behind by Mike Gartner.

When play moved to the opposite end, the Canadiens jammed the front of the net. Lou Franceschetti appeared to knock Shayne Corson into a post and dislodge the goal just as Richer swept out from behind the goal line, used the clutching bodies as a screen and whipped the puck past Clint Malarchuk.

"I thought it was coming off, but I really couldn't tell, because so many guys were jammed in there," Malarchuk said. "Richer made a good play to come out and use those guys. The ref {Dan Marouelli} was on that side and there was no way he could see whether the net was off, either."

Although 4:59 remained in the second period, there was no further scoring.

With 4:38 left, the Canadiens' Mike Lalor was penalized for interference and the Capitals came close to a tie. First a Scott Stevens drive rattled a post. Then Craig Laughlin retrieved the puck and set up Gartner for a point-blank shot, but Hayward stopped him.

"Scotty's shot hit the pipe right on," Laughlin said. "He {Hayward} never saw it. Then it came to the corner and we got another great chance. We could have won it, but give Montreal credit. They were boring, but they did a job shutting us down."

The Capitals' first goal actually was scored by Montreal, as Hunter's centering pass from behind the net struck Larry Trader's stick and popped past Hayward.

Naslund got that back on one of the most spectacular goals seen at Capital Centre in a long time. It occurred during a delayed penalty to Washington's Kelly Miller, who pulled down Corson but not before Corson shoved the puck ahead to Naslund in neutral ice.

Naslund cut between Stevens and Garry Galley, who threw Naslund to the ice. Still controlling the puck as he slid forward on his knees, Naslund steered it around Malarchuk into the net.

"I just gave him a second to work and he used it to his advantage," Galley said. "When I knocked him down, I never thought he'd score. Just to get a shot off would have been something. To deke Clint and score was remarkable."

"I got hooked from behind, but I kind of kept my balance," Naslund said. "I knew what I was doing. I saw Malarchuk coming out, so I took a chance and tried to slip it by him and it went in. It was a nice, funny goal, something to remember."

Brian Skrudland put Montreal ahead midway through the second period, deflecting Petr Svoboda's drive from the left point after Svoboda cut off Gartner's attempted clear around the boards.

Christian tied it, taking Laughlin's feed out of the left-wing corner and slipping the puck under the right pad of Hayward, who was off balance because Bengt Gustafsson came sliding into him a moment earlier.

"Their defenseman tries to push me and I fall down and slide," Gustafsson said, a viewpoint shared by Marouelli, who allowed the goal despite Hayward's protests.

"He said the defenseman pushed him in, but I took a look at the highlight {replay} and it looked intentional," Hayward said. "When a guy slides into the crease and prevents you from making a play on the puck, you're going to be upset."

Linesman Bob Hodges was carried off on a stretcher late in the second period and taken to Prince George's General Hospital for precautionary X-rays after he snapped his head against the glass and felt soreness in his neck. Hodges was injured when Stevens leaped to bat down a puck and his hip struck Hodges as he came down.

Montreal 1 2 0 3 Washington 1 1 0 2

FIRST PERIOD SCORING -- 1, Washington, Hunter 3, 3:59. 2, Montreal, Naslund 3 (Corson), 17:42. PENALTIES -- Lemieux, Mon (hooking), 1:44; Miller, Was (hooking), 4:30.

SECOND PERIOD SCORING -- 3, Montreal, Skrudland 1 (Svoboda), 8:54. 4, Washington, Christian 5 (Laughlin, Langway), 13:17. 5, Montreal, Richer 6 (Naslund, Corson), 15:01. PENALTIES -- Carbonneau, Mon (hooking), 6:41; Hunter, Was (charging), 15:01; Skrudland, Mon (holding), 19:49.

THIRD PERIOD SCORING -- None. PENALTIES -- Nilan, Mon (roughing), 4:08; Hunter, Was (roughing), 4:08; Lalor, Mon (interference), 15:22; Laughlin, Was, double minor (roughing), 16:12; Gartner, Was (roughing), 16:12; Chelios, Mon, double minor (roughing), 16:12; Hunter, Was (boarding), 18:49.

Shots on goal: Montreal 6 12 5 23 Washington 12 8 7 27

Power-play Opportunities -- Montreal 0 of 4; Washington 0 of 4.

Goalies -- Montreal, Hayward (27 shots-25 saves). Washington, Malarchuk (23-20).

A -- 17,483.

Referee -- Dan Marouelli. Linesmen -- Bob Hodges, Dan McCourt.