Peter Budaj notched his 11th win his last 12 regular-season starts and the Canadiens edged Washington 3-2.
Three lines contributed to the win as Travis Moen, David Desharnais and Daniel Brière, on a power-play, staked the Canadiens to a 3-0 lead.
With 22 seconds left in the first period, Alexander Ovechkin's 18th goal – from a bad angle, between Budaj's legs – gave the home team hope.
But a scoreless second period saw the Canadiens outshoot their hosts 13-3.
And the two-goal lead held up until 12:27 into the third, when another Ovechkin goal set up a wild ending.
John Carlson's shot ticked in off Alex Ovechkin to set up 7 1/2 minutes of lead protection.
The Canadiens managed to hang on but may have lost rookie Michaël Bournival, who blocked a shot with his foot.
The Canadiens played an excellent period and outshot the home team 14-3.
Canadiens wisely stayed out of the penalty box.
Michel Therrien shuffled Travis Moen onto the TomasPlekanec line, with Daniel Brière dropping down with Ryan White and Michaël Bournival.
The suddenly explosive Canadiens
Travis Moen, of all people, opened the scoring – his first in 51 games.
That set the stage for David Desharnais's first in 26 – a controversial goal that video review showed coming off DD's high stick. And then, on a power-play, Daniel Brière's third in five games made it 3-0.
Wrong. With half a minute left in the period, Alex Ovechkin's 19th, from a bad angle through Peter Budaj's legs, reduced the lead to two.
Shots were 13-13.
P.K. Subban fought Troy Brouwer, who had taken a cheap shot at Andrei Markov.
Difficult weekend begins
Your Montreal Canadiens play a back-to-back set against two teams that are ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings.
First up are the Washington Capitals, who are coming off an embarrassing 4-0 home-ice loss to Pittsburgh in which Marc-André Fleury made a mere 18 saves.
The Penguins play the Islanders Friday night and will be at the Bell Centre Saturday.
It's a safe bet Peter Budaj will face more than 18 Washington shots at the Verizon Center.
The Canadiens were 4-1 winners on their only visit to D.C., the third game of last season. Washington won both of its games in Montreal – including a 5-1 late-season romp in which Alex Ovechkin scored twice, added an assist and had six SoG.
Michel Therrien will go with the same skaters who easily beat Minnesota, except Douglas Murray draws in for Francis Bouillon.
Puck drops 7:10ish.
Check back later for live game blogging.
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• Pre-game reading: Sean McIndoe, aka Down Goes Brown, in Grantland