Peter Bondra's five-goal, record- setting performance for the Washington Capitals was the sort of thing players dream about beforehand and cherish afterward, even if they were just part of the supporting cast.

"It's always nice to play with a guy that sets a record," said Capitals defenseman Sylvain Cote, who had an assist on Bondra's first goal. "You can tell the little kids, 'I played with the guy that set the record.' "

Bondra's five goals -- four in the first period -- helped the Capitals defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-3, Saturday night at USAir Arena and re-work the record book in the process. The Capitals have won four of their past five games under new coach Jim Schoenfeld, and Bondra's scoring outburst gives the team a confidence boost going into tonight's 7:30 game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"I was thinking for a long time about scoring a lot of goals while I was growing up," Bondra said. "I scored five. That's unbelieveable in the NHL. Monday is a big game for us. I hope I can score again."

The NHL record for goals in a game is seven, set by Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs on Jan. 31, 1920. Seven players, including Malone later that year, have scored six goals in a game, but none since Darryl Sittler got half a dozen for Toronto on Feb. 7, 1976. Bondra becomes the 38th player in NHL history to score five goals in a game, though some of those have done it more than once. Los Angeles Kings star Wayne Gretzky has four five-goal games, though all four came when he played for Edmonton.

When Bondra arrived for his first training camp in 1990 the Capitals, other than a few scouts, barely knew anything about him. A native of Ukraine, Bondra grew up in Slovakia (where he has since become a citizen) but couldn't play on many Czechoslovakian national teams. The Capitals drafted him in the ninth round in 1990 and he was the surprise of that training camp.

Now in his fourth NHL season, Bondra (who will turn 26 years old today) had his best season a year ago, leading the Capitals in goals (37) and points (85), and was named to the all-star game. This summer, Bondra became something of hero in Slovakia (he grew up in Poprad) because he helped the fledgling Olympic team qualify for the Winter Games in Lillehammer (though he won't play in the Games).

However, he struggled for much of this season and had only 14 goals before Saturday's game. It reminded teammates and others about Bondra's poor playoff performance last season, when he scored no goals. A broken hand kept him out of 12 games and in the 18 games after the injury, he had just three goals.

"I had a tough time this season early," Bondra said. "Things didn't go so well for the team and for me. I had a bad injury. I tried to forget everything at the start and think about something new."

To that end, Schoenfeld was bugging Bondra to change his stick, hoping that a new weapon would help Bondra find his target. He asked him again before Saturday's game.

"I said, 'No, I brought new hands,' " Bondra said. "It was kind of fun. Everybody laughed before the game. It was a pretty good thing."

Five goals is a good way to start something new. He tied a franchise record for goals by one player in one game. Bengt Gustafsson did it more than a decade ago, on Jan. 8, 1984, in a game against Philadelphia. Current Capital Dave Poulin scored the lone goal for the Flyers in that contest.

Bondra's first goal erased a 1-0 Tampa Bay lead and began a flood of first-period goals. He had three in a span of 2:06, which set a team record for the three fastest goals by one player. He had four in a 4:16, which also set a team record for the four fastest goals by one player. It might also be an NHL record, but league officials won't finish the research until sometime today. Bondra became just the 10th player in NHL history to score four goals in one period.

"I was thinking, 'Four in one quarter,' " Bondra said. "If you count, you can get to 12."

If 12 goals sounds incredible, it is just one more than Bondra's personal record.

"When I was 10 years old, I scored 11 goals in one game," Bondra said. "Of course, we won the game something like 35-0 or 37-0."

The line Bondra has been on for the past five games worked splendidly Saturday.

Center Dale Hunter is among the most tenacious players in the league, but also an excellent passer, and Saturday he had three assists.

Right wing Dimitri Khristich leads the team in goals with 23, and also had three assists.

"Dale is a great player," Bondra said. "He is everywhere and he will pass to you. He makes great passes and if you are in trouble and someone hits you, he'll be there to help you out. Dima {Khristich} made great passes all night long."

After a lackluster 4-0 loss Friday to Montreal, the Capitals as a group played much better Saturday, though Tampa Bay is not as good a team.

There were some other individuals who stood out. Goalie Don Beaupre won his fourth straight start. Steve Konowalchuk had the other goal. And defenseman Al Iafrate won points with teammates and the crowd when he decked and fought Tampa Bay's Chris Lipuma after Lipuma knocked down Capitals left wing Kelly Miller from behind.

Iafrate shared in the spoils of victory and Bondra's performance. Jimmy Wiseman, who is one of the goal judges, swung by the Capitals locker room after the game with a stack of hats in his hand.

When Bondra got the third of his five goals, some fans littered the ice with hats, celebrating the second hat trick of Bondra's career.

"I'll take that one," Iafrate said of a black, broad-brimmed cowboy hat. "It almost hit me right in the face."

Capitals Notes: Schoenfeld gave the team yesterday off, though they departed for New York later in the afternoon. Schoenfeld was to spend yesterday with his family at their home near Buffalo and then meet the Capitals in New York ... Pat Peake missed his second straight game with flu.

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