Before the arrival of Alex Ovechkin, the Capitals’ game-breaking franchise player came in the form of Peter Bondra. Bondra’s heroics were displayed on many occasions, including in a game against the New York Islanders on February 3, 1996, one that came two years after a game in which he had scored five goals. In this latest Retro Recap, Diane Doyle looks back at the game against the Isles.
The game was played at U.S. Airways Center (formerly the Capital Centre) in Landover, Maryland. The Capitals, at the time, held a record of 24-21-5 and sat in fourth place in the now-defunct Atlantic Division and were coming off a win their previous game against the Ottawa Senators. The Islanders, meanwhile, were 13-17-8 and were in last in the Atlantic Division.
The game did not get off to auspicious start for the Caps as Niklas Andersson of the Islanders scored shorthanded at the 9:36 mark, a minute and 36 seconds after teammate Rich Pilon [father of future Capitals’ draft pick Garrett Pilon] had been sent to the penalty box at 8:00 for cross-checking.The Islanders scored again at 14:03 when Martin Straka scored his 10th of the season against Caps starter Jim Carey. As a result Carey was replaced by backup Olaf Kolzig.
At the 17:51 mark of the first, Capitals forward Steve Konowalchuk took an elbowing penalty, which was followed by teammate Michal Pivonka scoring his seventh goal of the year shorthanded less than two minutes later on assists from Bondra and Sylvain Cote. The Isles would answer just 14 seconds later on a goal from Alexander Semak, who scored on the power play to push the Islanders’ lead to 3-1 heading into the first intermission.
The second period featured numerous minor penalties for both teams, many of them coincidental, for a total of 14 penalties. Todd Bertuzzi added a goal to New York’s lead at the 7:41 mark in a 4-on-4 situation, chasing Kolzig, who had come into the game in relief, from the net in favor of Carey. Eight seconds after a Capitals’ power play had expired, Bondra scored his 30th goal of the season, on assists from Dale Hunter and Sergei Gonchar, to cut the deficit to 4-2. At the 15:32 mark, with Konowalchuk serving a high-sticking penalty, Derek King of the Islanders struck on the power play to give the Islanders a 5-2 lead heading into the second intermission.
The Capitals would strike early in the final frame, as Bondra scored his second goal of the game over a minute into a Capitals’ power play at the 5:54 mark. Calle Johansson and Pivonka were credited with assists on the play. Less then five minutes later, Bondra scored his third goal of the game to complete the hat trick; Gonchar and Pivonka picked up assists on the play. Exactly two minutes after completing his hat trick, Bondra scored again to tie the score at 5-5 on assists from Pivonka and Joe Juneau on his fourth goal of the game. Neither team was able to break the tie through the rest of regulation, sending the contest to overtime.
The Capitals’ earlier misfortunes in the game would prove to be a thing of the past early in the extra frame. At the 1:21 mark, Bondra passed from the left corner to the crease to Pivonka, who put the puck on net, resulting in the sudden death winner. The goal gave the Caps a 6-5 victory, with the team seeing strong performances from several players. Bondra had four goals and two assists for six points, while Pivonka had two goals and five assists, scoring the first and last goal for the team. The Caps’ shooters had bombarded Islanders goalie Tommy Soderstrom, with 44 shots.
Bondra commented after the game:
“Great comeback — the whole team. We were down 5-2, but we still played a pretty good game. We had a lot of chances, lot of shots. We just told ourselves to never stop.”
Then-Capitals General Manager, David Poile, described the combination of Bondra and Pivonka, in these words after the game:
“Rogers and Hammerstein or bacon and eggs. They just go together. Each can be successful all on his own, but together they appear to be much more.”
The game-winner was the Capitals’ only power play goal on a day they went 1-9 overall.
By Diane Doyle
Capitals: Bonzai’s Birthday Month Bonanza
UPI Writeup of Game: Bondra Scored Four Goals — 2/3/1996
Washington Post Game Story — 2/3/1996
Baltimore Sun Game Writeup
Capitals Alumni Profile: Peter Bondra