On February 5, 1994, the Capitals were in search of a spark on offense, one night removed from a 4-0 shutout loss in Montreal courtesy of Canadiens goaltender Patrick Roy.
The team was back at the Capital Centre to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team it had not lost to since the Lightning joined the league as an expansion team in 1992. The game was head coach Jim Schoenfeld’s sixth behind the bench for the Capitals after replacing Terry Murray on Jan. 27, 1994, with the Caps 20-23-4 on the year.
In five games with Schoenfeld, the Caps had responded with a record of 3-2-0, their offense improving after a few line adjustments by the new coach.
Most notable of all of the line changes was Schoenfeld’s decision to put struggling 25-year-old Peter Bondra (14 goals in his first 52 games) with Dmitri Khristich and Dale Hunter together shortly after he assumed head coaching position.
I’ve never played on a line with the two of them,” said Hunter. “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.”
The line had perhaps its best night – and Bondra his best career game – against the Lightning.
The game got off to an inauspicious start, with Tampa Bay taking a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal from Shawn Chambers at 14:17. But Bondra began his historic night just 27 seconds later, scoring from point-blank range to tie the game. The Slovakian forward had another goal 15 seconds later, taking a pass from Khristich for a breakaway goal at 14:59.
Two minutes later, Bondra completed the fastest hat trick in team history (2:06), scoring on the power play on assists from Hunter and Khristich at 16:50.
Bondra became the only Capitals player to score four goals in a period with another goal at 18:56, with assists from Hunter and Kevin Hatcher. He became the second Caps player to record five goals in a game, repeating the feat of Bengt Gustafsson with his fifth and final tally of the night late in the second period.
It’s sort of a dream come true, because you always dream about scoring a lot of goals,” Bondra told reporters after the game. “It’s crazy.”
The Caps would go on to win the game 6-3, with Hunter and Khristich each recording three assists.
We’ve been on him about changing his stick,” Schoenfeld said of Bondra. “So I asked him if he got that stick changed, and he said, ‘No I brought a new pair of hands.’ Not only was it great hands, but heart, determination, and great speed. That’s as fine a performance as I’ve seen.”
Bondra added his name to an exclusive list of players (currently 43) who have scored five or more goals in a NHL game. He is also one of 11 NHL players to score four goals in a period, along with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, among others.
But despite all of the accolades, Bondra recalled an even more prolific night much earlier in his hockey career
I was a 10-year-old and scored 11 goals.” Bondra said. “It was a very good junior team. Of course, we won the game, something like 35 or 37 to nothing.”