Capitals great Peter Bondra was long considered the best offensive player and player overall in franchise history before the emergence of Alex Ovechkin. During his prime years, Bondra was an offensive dynamo and a weapon for Washington every night. Two days before his birthday in 1994, Bondra’s offensive abilities went on full display in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle takes a look back at “Bonzai’s” Early Birthday Offensive Burst.
Heading into the game against their Eastern Conference and then-division Rivals, the Capitals held a record of 23-25-4 and were in need of a spark offensively, as they were coming off a 4-0 loss the previous night against the Montreal Canadiens. This game was the sixth coached by Jim Schoenfeld, who had been hired 10 days prior to replace Terry Murray, who had been fired on January 27, with the team having gone 3-2 since the coaching change. Schoenfeld made one notable lineup change soon after assuming command by putting the struggling Bondra, on the top-line with Dale Hunter and Dmitri Khristich. Prior to the game, Bondra had scored 14 goals in the season and had missed 12 games with a broken hand and scored only three goals in the 18 games since returning from the injury.
Hunter commented on the new line, saying, “I’ve never played on a line with the two of them. I’ve never spent this much time playing with either of them. Dimo [Khristich] has terrific talent and Peter has such great speed, it makes my job easy. All I have to do is make the passes.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, held a record of 19-27-6 going into the game and was in its second year of existence and was performing as one would expect from a second-year expansion team. Tampa Bay sat in last place in the then-Atlantic Division.
The first half of the opening period was very quiet, with no scoring and no penalties from either team. At the 10:54 mark, Tampa Bay defenseman Roman Hamrlik was called on a holding penalty,, which the Bolts were able to kill off. Nearly three minutes later, the Caps’ Craig Berube took a slashing penalty and Lightning defenseman Shawn Chambers of Tampa Bay scored on the ensuing power play to give Tampa Bay the initial 1-0 lead at 14:07 of the first.
The Capitals struck back just 27 seconds later as Bondra scored on assists from Hunter and defenseman Sylvain Cote. Bondra struck again 15 seconds after his first tally on a breakaway, after receiving a pass from Khristich, which gave the Caps a 2-1 lead. Hamrlik took another penalty at 16:43 and just seven seconds later, Bondra completed the hat trick on the ensuing power play at the 16:50 mark on assists from Hunter and Khristich. While Washington’s lead now stood at 3-1, Bondra and the Capitals were not done with scoring, as No. 12 scored his fourth goal of the period just over two minutes after his third goal, to give the home team a commanding 4-1 lead heading into the first intermission, with all goals coming from Bondra himself. Bondra set team records for the fastest hat trick in team history (2:06) and fastest four goals by a single player. Bondra was only the 11th player in NHL history to score four goals in a single period.
The Caps added to their lead just 7:49 into the second frame on a goal from Steve Konowalchuk, with Randy Burridge and Mike Ridley credited with assists on the play. Just over 40 seconds later, at the 8:32 mark, Capitals defenseman Al Iafrate and Tampa Bay’s Chris Lipuma dropped the gloves, which resulted in each receiving five minutes for fighting, with Iafrate also handed minor penalties for high-sticking and tripping and Lipuma handed a penalty for charging. The Bolts would fail to score on their subsequent power play. Bondra scored another goal with 30 seconds left in the period,on assists from Shawn Andersson and Khristich, giving him his fifth goal of the game and putting the Caps ahead 6-1.
Tampa Bay scored twice in the third period, receiving goals from Danton Cole at 14:07 and Marc Bureau at 14:50. The two quick goals from Tampa Bay narrowed the Caps’ lead to 6-3, though was not enough with the Capitals holding on a strong night from Bondra.
After his five-goal performance, Bondra season goal total stood at 19 goals for the season just two days before his 26th birthday. Both Hunter and Khristich, his new linemates, each had three assists.