Earlier this month, legendary Caps winger Peter Bondra celebrated his 50th birthday. And while that seems somehow hard to believe, we're going to mark the occasion by celebrating Bondra.
With a three-goal game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 25, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin recorded the 20th hat trick of his NHL career, nudging ahead of Bondra for the all-time franchise lead in hat tricks, one of the last franchise records Bondra still held. We believe Bondra's franchise mark of 32 career shorthanded goals will stand for quite some time to come, and it won't be Ovechkin who topples Bondra from the top spot on that ledger, if it ever happens.
Bondra turned 50 on Feb. 7, and we've been thinking about the number of hat tricks and remarkable offensive performances he put together in his birth month over the years. And while Ovechkin has had four games with as many as four goals in a game during his brilliant NHL career, Bondra had six such games as a member of the Capitals.
Bondra had five four-goal games to four for Ovechkin, and Bondra had a five-goal game to his credit, too, one of only two such performances in the Capitals' more than 40 seasons of NHL existence. Bengt Gustafsson had the only other five-goal game for the Capitals; he scored five goals on five shots in a Jan. 8, 1984 game against Philadelphia.
Bondra's five-goal game and two of his four-goal games came within days of his birthday. Let's take a closer look at those games.
On Feb. 5, 1994, Bondra lit up the Tampa Bay Lightning for five goals just two days before he celebrated his 26th birthday. A mere 27 seconds after the Lightning took a 1-0 lead in that game at USAir Arena, Bondra started a scoring spree like no Capital before or since. He scored four times in a span of just 4 minutes and 12 seconds, enabling the Caps to take a 4-1 lead to the room after 20 minutes of play.
Bondra scored one of those four goals on the power play, and Dale Hunter assisted on three of them. Dmitri Khristich picked up two helpers on Bondra's first-period goals while Sylvain Cote and Kevin Hatcher each had one.
He wasn't done yet, either. With 30 seconds remaining in the second period, Bondra scored his fifth goal of the game to push Washington's lead to 6-1. Shawn Anderson and Khristich earned the assists on Bondra's last goal of that game.
Just under two years later - on Feb. 3, 1996 - Bondra notched a four-goal game at the expense of the New York Islanders at USAir Arena. After two periods of play, the Caps were down 5-2 to the lowly Islanders, and Bondra scored one of Washington's two goals with help from Hunter and Sergei Gonchar.
Bondra put on a show in the third, scoring three goals to knot the score at 5-5 and send it to overtime, when he delivered the primary helper on linemate Michal Pivonka's game-winner at 1:21 of the extra session. Pivonka assisted on all three of Bondra's third-period goals in that game; Gonchar assisted on another as did Calle Johansson and Joé Juneau.
Three years to the day later - on Feb. 3, 1999, -- an almost 31-year-old Bondra delivered the fifth of his half dozen games with four or more goals in a Capitals sweater. The 1998-99 season contained few bright spots; the Caps set a franchise record with 510 man-games lost to injury and tumbled out of the playoffs after reaching the Stanley Cup final the previous spring. But Bondra provided one of the season's few highlights when he scored four times in a 10-1 trouncing of Tampa Bay at the arena then known as MCI Center.
Bondra scored the only goal of the first period with help from Joe Reekie and Kelly Miller. The Lightning tied the game at 1-1 early in the second, but Washington erupted for nine unanswered goals, eight of them coming in an incredible span of just 9 minutes and 34 seconds in the middle frame.
Bondra scored three of those goals in the second, netting the "game-winner" at 9:46 with help from Mike Eagles and Craig Berube, then scoring again to make it 3-1 just 35 seconds later with a single assist from Adam Oates. He netted his fourth of the night at 14:33 with Oates and Juneau assisting.
Washington's other goal getters in that romp were Johansson, Juneau, Brian Bellows (two), James Black and Yogi Svejkovsky.
So here's to Peter the Great, still a superstar after all these years.