MONTREAL, JAN. 12 -- The seats are quite narrow in this fabulous old building that is The Forum, so you often see fans with their arms crossed, waiting to be impressed before clapping.

Montreal goalie Patrick Roy probably could have played that way much of tonight for all the pressure the Washington Capitals' offense applied. By the time the two-time Vezina Trophy winner was forced to make a great save, his team was well on its way to a 4-1 victory over the Capitals in front of 16,841.

The Canadiens led 3-0 before the Capitals scored with just four seconds left in the second period on a shot that Roy probably didn't see.

"I try to stay focused on the puck even if I don't get many shots," said Roy, who didn't in the first and third periods.

The loss ends the Capitals' humble undefeated streak (3-0-1) at four games. A victory would have moved them within a point of fourth place in the Patrick Division, given New Jersey's loss to Edmonton. But the mix wasn't right for such a thing.

The first period was scoreless, but the Canadiens had 13 shots on Mike Liut in the Capitals goal, and in the second period they made them count. Stephane Richer, Mike Keane and Brian Skrudland scored all the goals needed by the Canadiens, who moved within a point of Adams Division-leading Boston. Kevin Hatcher scored the Capitals' goal just before the second intermission. But the Canadiens played good defense in the third period, allowing but four shots on goal, and Mike McPhee eliminated the shred of doubt remaining by scoring with 9:39 left.

"We can't play here on certain nights," said Capitals Coach Terry Murray, holding his hand near his eyebrows, "then drop off like we did tonight. We have to be able to play at high level to give ourselves an opportunity to win.

"It's like, 'We played last night, so let's save ourselves for the last half of the game.' But by then we were down 3-0."

The Capitals (21-23-2) flew here Friday night after their 4-2 victory over the Calgary Flames. That meant a second game in as many nights and there was a noticeable difference in the two versions. The Capitals seemed a step or two slower, and their passes were in each other's skates or a foot beyond reach.

Every team faces those situations, but in this one the Capitals were meeting maybe the hottest team in the league. The Canadiens had lost only once in their previous 10 games and that was in Calgary. The Canadiens also hadn't played since Wednesday, so the legs were fresh.

"We knew they played {Friday} night," Richer said. "We didn't try to open up right away. Right now the key is that we're playing a patient game and waiting for the good opportunities."

Murray has gone back to alternating goalies, so this was Liut's turn. He had no shot on Richer's goal, as the big right winger popped in the rebound of a Denis Savard shot for a power-play goal and 1-0 lead with 2:49 gone in the second period.

Though there was a defensive mixup in front of him, Liut might like another shot at Keane's shot, which trickled between the pads for a 2-0 Montreal lead 64 seconds later. Liut stopped Richer on a breakaway, only to have Skrudland score after splitting the defense for a 3-0 edge with 5:21 left in the second.

Roy made great saves on Mike Ridley and Kelly Miller with about 40 and 30 seconds left in the second, but the Canadiens' Mathieu Schneider went off for holding with 27 seconds left. Hatcher then put a wrist shot through the equivalent of Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic with four seconds left. That was Hatcher's 14th goal (tying his NHL high for a season) and gave the Capitals a lift heading to the dressing room. But they had no staying power tonight and couldn't build on it in the third.

"We didn't start as well as we did last night," said Michal Pivonka, who had two goals and an assist against the Flames and assisted on Hatcher's goal. "Montreal is a tough team to come back against, especially in this building. And all the bounces went their way. It was a {crummy} game."

Capitals Notes: Joel Quenneville met the team here and played in place of Rod Langway, who developed back spasms before Friday night's game. Langway won't play in Tuesday's game in St. Louis or Thursday's in Minnesota. . . . Steve Leach and Bob Joyce were scratched from the lineup.