It’s been documented how bad the Tampa Bay Lightning have been in the regular season against the Washington Capitals. Much of Washington’s dominance can be attributed to Peter Bondra. In 59 games against the Bolts, the Ukrainian-born, Slovakian-raised winger scored 41 goals, the most he scored against any NHL franchise in his career.
His blend of speed and goal scoring prowess were too much for the Lightning during the days they were employing a less-than-stellar defensive corps. There was a set play that the Capitals used that was nigh on unstoppable. A Washington defender would get the puck in his own zone and pass it to the boards at center ice. Waiting there was a Capital forward, usually Dmitri Khristich. Meanwhile, Bondra would take off like a rocket from his zone and race past every member of the Lightning organization.
The forward at the boards passed the puck to the zooming Bondra, who was behind the Lightning defense in a blink of an eye. A shimmy, a little shake, and the puck was in the back of the net. The Caps were the friend that knew the unstoppable one-timer in NHL 94 and kept using it.
When the Lightning were at their absolute rock-bottom as a franchise, at least according to former captain Tim Taylor, Bondra was gleefully knocking in four goals during a 10-1 Capitals victory in February of 1999. Sadly, it wasn’t even his best game against the Lightning. That happened five years earlier on February 5th, 1994. That night is the subject of today’s video breakdown.
Apologies for the sound quality. The other video depicting this atrocity was over nine minutes long. No one has time for all of that.
In the dark days of February the Lightning traveled to Landover, Maryland to take on the Washington Capitals. The Bolts were struggling through their second season with a 19-28-6 record. They had yet to record a victory against the Capitals, entering the night with a 0-3-1 record against them in their brief existence.
The Caps weren’t playing much better that season, sporting a 24-25-4 record and a new head coach in Jim Schoenfeld who replaced Terry Murray a few weeks before the game. Bondra, in his fourth season of play, was struggling, having scored only 14 goals to that point.
After 14 minutes of scoreless play, Shawn Chambers opened the scoring for the Lightning with a power play goal. From there on, it was all Peter Bondra.
Time to ruin the suspense. This is the toughest goal Bondra scored all night. Daren Puppa actually did a nice job of punching the initial shot past Dale Hunter. The only problem was that Puppa isn’t 6’8”. The puck trickled to Bondra and he roofed it just over Puppa’s shoulder and under the crossbar.
First off - this is a Capitals’ home game and they are wearing their white uniforms. This is how it should be. If I could change one rule in the NHL that would be the one...well that and the offside rule.
As the camera cuts to the crowd there is an overwhelming lack of jerseys in the crowd. ot only is no one “Rocking the Red” the only thing they are rocking are some sweet 90’s pullovers and mullets.
Peter Bondra was behind the defense. That is not good. Neither was the way Puppa played the puck. I don’t know if he thought he could get to the puck before Bondra or if he thought the winger was offside, but he was definitely caught in between when Bondra had the puck on his stick. It’s actually pretty amazing that the Lightning goaltender didn’t blow out his knee trying to make the save.
You have to give credit to Rudy Poeschek for trying, but there was no way in hell he was going to catch Bondra. Speed was not a trait shared by the majority of the Lightning blueline that year. It might have been the grittiest, hard-nosiest defense assembled as four players had over 100 minutes in penalties on the season.
That play would have been reviewed in today’s NHL. After playing the video back several times the result is, at best, inconclusive. Twenty-three years later the call stands. Thank you grainy, mid-90s technology (which is only slightly worse than the five-inch screen officials use today).
A power play goal. Bondra was the beneficiary of a nice play by Dale Hunter. He often crossed the line with dirty plays, but he was also a pretty darn good player. He quickly realized that he missed his chance to get a quality shot on net after it trickled a little too far in front of him. Instead he threw it across the front of the goal, trusting that Bondra would be in position to shoot it.
He was and he put it into the open net.
This was Bondra’s third goal in two minutes and six seconds (a Washington record). That got out of hand awfully quickly.
Finally, a shot of crowd members wearing hockey jerseys. I didn’t go to games in the mid-90s, were fans not wearing jerseys in those days?
Puppa made the right play as Hunter was the biggest threat. A goaltender has to trust that his defense, even shorthanded, can cover the backside of the net on a play like that.
According to Al Iafrate, someone threw a cowboy hat on the ice and it almost hit them. Who wears a cowboy hat to a hockey game in DC/Maryland area?
Speed kills. Hunter knew that his young winger was busting through the neutral zone. Instead of passing it to him, he put it into an area where Bondra could skate to the puck without breaking stride. Chris Joseph made a horrible read as he either tried to intercept the pass or tried to hit Bondra. Either way Bondra was past him in a blink of an eye. Again, Puppa was left hung out to try and flails away as Bondra slammed on the brakes and flipped the puck over him.
A young fan watching this clip might have thought that Puppa basically gave up on this goal and allowed Bondra to score, not unlike Goldberg in the Mighty Ducks first game against the Hawks. That’s not the case. That was actually considered a legitimate way of trying to stop a goal in the NHL before the butterfly style took over. And that’s why hockey used to actually be entertaining.
It’s still the first period. Bondra became the 10th player in NHL history to score 4 goals in a period.
Hey Penguins guy. Why are you:
- Wearing a Penguins jersey at a Caps/ Lightning game?
Puppa was cooling his heels on the bench and Pat Jablonski was now in net for the Lightning. Steve Konowalchuk had scored a goal to give the Caps a 5-1 lead. With the clock winding down in the second period Washington stormed into the Lightning zone. Khristich found Shawn Anderson, a defender who joined the rush for fun. Anderson got a pass in his skates and made a nice play to shuffle it over to Bondra who’d beaten a back-checking Brian Bradley to the far post. It was another easy goal for the 500-goal scorer.
The Lightning did mount a small comeback in the third period as Danton Cole and Marc Bureau put pucks past Don Beaupre. It wasn’t enough and the Capitals had a 6-3 victory.
To this day (and hopefully forever) it’s the most goals the Lightning have given up to an individual player in a game. It’s also tied for the most goals a Washington Capital has scored in a game. No it’s not Alex Ovechkin (who does have a 4-goal game against the Bolts) that he’s tied with, but Swedish legend Bengt Gustafsson.
The Lightning stumbled to last place in their division (12 points behind their brand new downstate rival Florida Panthers) while the Caps made it to the second round of the playoffs before losing to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion New York Rangers.
In all, the game was a bit of an aberration for the Lightning that season as they finished 8th in goals against. Despite being turned inside out in this game by Bondra, Puppa finished the season 8th in the league with a 2.71 Goals Against Average and accounted for 22 of the team’s 30 wins that season. He showed that he would be the backbone of the squad that become a playoff team within the next two seasons.
Speaking of playoffs, Bondra was on the ice for another moment in Lightning history. This one was a little better. On April 20th, 2003 the Lightning won their first ever playoff series. They did it in Washington, in triple overtime.