MONTREAL - Michael Nylander scored the winner with 2:32 to play in regulation and Simeon Varlamov made 32 saves to win his NHL debut as the streaking Washington Capitals downed the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on Saturday night.
Nicklas Backstrom also scored for the Capitals (18-10-3), who have won five of their last six.
Patrice Brisebois scored the lone goal for the Canadiens (16-8-5), who wrapped up a seven-game homestand with two losses in a row.
Jaroslav Halak started his third straight game for the Canadiens as starter Carey Price remains out with a virus and a lower body injury. Halak made 24 saves and has stopped 75 of 81 shots over his last three starts, but he's lost two of them.
Both Varlamov and Canadiens centre Ben Maxwell were making their NHL debuts, each freshly called up from the AHL.
Varlamov had a debut to remember, being named the first star, though he did benefit from the Canadiens hitting at least three goal posts.
The Canadiens power play continued to struggle, going 0-for-8 and generating few chances.
The best power play in the league the past two seasons is now 6-for-77 in Montreal's last 17 games, and coach Guy Carbonneau showed his frustration by putting the fourth line of Maxim Lapierre, Steve Begin and Tom Kostopoulos out for two power-play shifts in the second period.
The Capitals power play, conversely, continued to hum along with a goal on four chances, and is now 11-for-29 over the past seven games.
With the game tied 1-1 late in the third, the Canadiens had two great chances to go ahead when Alex Tanguay shot over an open net and Alex Kovalev followed up by ringing one off the post with Varlamov scrambling.
The Capitals came down and took advantage of Montreal's missed opportunity, as Nylander fought off a Roman Hamrlik check to grab a rebound and bank it in off Halak for his third of the season and first since Oct. 16.
Washington's lethal power play struck only nine seconds into its first opportunity, with Washington capitalizing on a retaliation penalty by Josh Gorges to take a 1-0 lead.
Alexander Ovechkin, the target of the roughing penalty taken by Gorges, put a shot on net from the point and Backstrom whacked the rebound in on his third try for his 10th of the season at 10:19 of the first.
Backstrom now has five goals and five assists in his last seven games.
Washington then handed the Canadiens five straight power plays - including a double-minor on Ovechkin - but Montreal was unable to generate much pressure, let alone a goal.
However, with the teams playing 4-on-4, Brisebois tied the game when he took an Alex Tanguay pass and fired a long slapshot through Varlamov for his third of the year at 15:25 of the second.
Notes: The Canadiens were missing Christopher Higgins (shoulder/arm), Saku Koivu (ankle/foot), Carey Price (flu and lower body), Georges Laraque (groin) and Mike Komisarek (shoulder). Komisarek could return next week... The Capitals recently welcomed back a legion of injured regulars, including Alexander Semin, Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov and Tom Poti, but forwards Tomas Fleischmann, Eric Fehr and defenceman John Erskine remain on the shelf.