The Washington Capitals have been dominant for most of the season. Lately, though, the Eastern Conference leaders have been playing from behind. And, against the Montreal Canadiens, they couldn't pull off another comeback.
Alex Galchenyuk scored two goals, Mike Condon made 33 saves and the Canadiens topped the Eastern Conference-leading Capitals 4-3 on Wednesday night.
The Canadiens built a 3-0 lead and chased Capitals goalie Braden Holtby in the second period before holding on as Washington tallied two late goals.
"We played the best team in the league in their building," Canadiens coach Michel Therrien said. "They're really tough to play against, and the way that we came out gave us the confidence."
Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Fleischmann added goals for the Canadiens, who had lost four of five, and two previous meetings with Washington this season.
Trailing 4-1, the Capitals scored twice inside the final minutes, including Andre Burakovsky's goal with 2:53 remaining. Jason Chimera and Dmitri Orlov also scored for the President's Trophy front-runners, who entered 17-1-1 over their previous 19 home games.
Alex Ovechkin, the NHL leader with 39 goals, had one assist, but did not score for the first time in four games for Washington.
The Capitals were 9-1-0 in their previous 10 games, while the Canadiens were 3-14-1 in their last 18 on the road.
Washington playing catchup
Galchenyuk's first score meant the slow-starting Capitals trailed for the sixth straight game. Washington won four of the previous five.
"We can't come back every night," Capitals centre Nicklas Backstrom said. "That's not going to happen. We have to play a better 60-minute game."
Holtby, who finished with 15 saves on 18 shots, couldn't add to his league-leading 38 wins. Washington's defence didn't help the cause.
Montreal turned a poor clear from Orlov into a 1-0 lead. Galchenyuk intercepted the pass and then rammed home a rebound off Dale Weise's shot.
The deficit doubled with 2:13 left in the opening period on Gallagher's power-play goal in the third and final meeting against Washington this season.
Another rebound off Holtby led to Montreal's third goal less than two minutes into the second period and Fleischmann's first since Jan. 23.
"We wanted to make it as tough as we could on him," Gallagher said of Holtby. "Pretty much all our goals we had people around him."
Seeking a spark, Capitals coach Barry Trotz sat Holtby for Philipp Grubauer following the third goal. Grubauer finished with 15 saves, including turning away Gallagher's penalty shot, but surrendered Galchenyuk's goal in the second period.
Washington mustered scant quality opportunities against Condon until Chimera scooped a loose puck past the sprawled goalie, making it 3-1 at 5:32 in the second.
"We didn't play sound enough hockey tonight," Trotz said. "That was a really junky game for us."
Washington leads second-place Florida by 17 points in the conference standings.
"I don't think we're going to allow that to happen," defenceman Brooks Orpik said of possibly slowing down without an eminent threat behind them. "Maybe I'm naive, maybe it's creeping in a little bit. It's one of those things where you have to stay focused. You have to make sure, especially down the stretch, that's your best hockey. Take your foot off the gas, it's tough to all of a sudden turn the switch back on for the playoff."