Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec scored his second goal of the game with just eight seconds left in overtime for a 6-5 home victory on Wednesday night, ending Washington's marathon winning streak.
Plekanec was set on both goals by Sergei Kostitsyn. On the overtime winner, Kostitsyn worked his way down the left boards and fed his linemate at the edge of the crease.
"We needed two points in the standings, and we got them," Plekanec said. "It wasn't great in the third period for us, but we'll take the two points."
Tom Pyatt and Scott Gomez each scored a goal and an assist as Montreal led 5-2 after two periods at Bell Centre, but the Capitals fought back furiously in a bid to win their 15th consecutive game, tying the game in the dying seconds of the third.
"I liked the way we reacted in overtime," said Canadiens coach Jacques Martin. "After getting scored on with less than 20 seconds left, they never got a sniff in overtime."
Glen Metropolit and Maxim Lapierre also scored for Montreal, with goalie Carey Price making 33 saves in his first start since Jan. 27.
Washington forward Brooks Laich beat Price for a hat trick goal with 18 seconds left in the third to force overtime, with Nicklas Backstrom and Mike Green each finishing with a goal and an assist for the Capitals.
Alex Ovechkin drew two assists and now has 88 points to lead the league in scoring.
The Capitals were looking to match the New York Islanders of 1981-82, who posted 15 straight wins for the second-best NHL streak ever. Pittsburgh won 17 straight in 1992-93.
It should be noted that the Penguins won in an era without the shootout, while the Islanders' streak came before shootout and the overtime period.
Washington also fought back from a three-goal deficit in their previous outing, a 5-4 overtime win over Pittsburgh.
"Normally we'd say that was a good point but we were trying to do something special so it's a deflating loss," said Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. "I think it was seven seconds left to get to the shootout, where we would have felt pretty confident tonight that we would have been successful, but those things happen."
There were anxious moments late in the first when Montreal defenceman Josh Gorges lay motionless after taking a Green blast off his head. Gorges was able to make it to his skates, although he needed help from the training staff before departing for the night.
"The puck got him right in the helmet, you can see the indentation of the puck in the helmet," said new Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier between the second and third period. "He's very lucky. But he's OK, he was chatting with the guys."
Montreal shook off the scare to score three in the middle period — including two in 12 seconds — after Boudreau opted to pull Michael Neuvirth in favour of former Canadien Jose Theodore. Neuvirth hadn't been overly sloppy, but had an undisclosed injury.
At least three Montreal goals could be attributed to the Canadiens outworking the Capitals in the trenches.
The Habs were up 4-2 in the second when it looked like Washington got one back, but it was waved off after video review. No explanation was given, but Ovechkin had planted big Hal Gill into Price, impeding his ability to stop the puck.
Montreal (29-26-6) moved past idle Tampa Bay and into sixth place in the Eastern Conference. The Canadiens have won four of five.
Gomez caught Neuvirth off the near post to send a wrister into the net just 36 seconds in, Montreal's first goal in more than 70 minutes after getting shut out against Boston in their last game.
Pyatt and Gionta set up the goal by outworking the Capitals on the boards, with Washington allowing the first goal in a game for the ninth time in the last 15 games.
The home team had been carrying the play for the first six minutes, but the Capitals showed their quick-strike ability. The Canadiens got caught standing in their own end, with Laich picking up the puck in the slot and deking Price for a 1-1 score.
Green, often maligned for his defensive play, sprawled later in the period to foil a short-handed 2-on-1 for Montreal.
Green then unleashed the shot that hit Gorges, drawing concern from both teams.
"That was scary," Green said. "I didn't know where it had hit him or what and I was just glad he got up."
Pyatt swooped in for a rebound just 41 seconds into the second, another goal set up by Montreal being more insistent along the boards.
Ovechkin started a play right after the ensuing face off in which four Capitals touched the puck on a dizzying pass play. Backstrom was the goal scorer, and at the end of the night his nine-game point streak totals had grown to five goals and 14 assists.
Theodore came in and was steady on a Montreal power play, later finding himself in the epicentre at the 12-minute mark when Pyatt and two teammates had whacks at the puck in close.
Washington's Brendan Morrison went to the box for tripping and Montreal capitalized. David Desharnais registered his first NHL point by feeing a cross-crease pass to Metropolit for an easy putaway at 12:45.
Right after the next faceoff, the puck bounced wildly at the Washington blue-line and Montreal gained the zone. Lapierre snapped the puck home from the slot for his fifth of the season, a play the Capitals thought was offside.
After Mike Knuble's redirect past Price was ruled off due to the Ovechkin hit on Gill, the Capitals went on the power play.
Ovechkin rang a shot off the post and then was denied by Price on another bid.
It was a key Price save because Sergei Kostitsyn would win a puck battle along the boards in the Washington end to set up Plekanec's snapper with just 1:04 left in the second.
"I felt good," said Price. "It felt like it was a football game, with a week of practice before the game. I just tried to take what I've been working on in practice and apply it directly to the game."
Green blasted a shot from the point home 16 seconds into the third, with Laich scoring twice in the final 11 minutes to complete the hat trick.
His second goal came on an individual effort down the right side just as the Montreal power play lapsed, and he redirected Knuble's pass from the corner through Price's pads to at least earn the Capitals a point.
Montreal begins a home-and-home in Philadelphia on Friday, returning to Bell Centre on Saturday against the Flyers (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 7 p.m. ET).