After ending a personal 16-game goal-scoring drought with a pair of power-play goals in the first, Higgins left the game early in the third and did not return.
Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau would only say that Higgins -- who missed 18 games earlier this season after suffering a high ankle sprain on Nov. 4 -- had suffered an upper body injury and that he didn't know the extent of the injury.
"We'll know a little bit more about it (Wednesday), but at this point I have no idea," Carbonneau said. "But it was good to see him try to get some goals and get some confidence back."
Montreal scored three power-play goals -- all in the first -- and one short-handed and an empty-netter.
Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, centering the top line with Higgins and Ryder, assisted on the three first-period goals.
"That line tonight was extraordinary," Carbonneau said. "They were skating well. They were moving the puck well. That's the line I remember before Christmas."
Ryder had Montreal's other goal in the first before adding a short-handed effort in the second. Garth Murray scored his first goal of the season into an empty net with 58 seconds remaining.
Ryder's second goal -- his third in two games -- was the Canadiens' 16th short-handed goal of the season, breaking the team record set in 1995-96.
"The momentum really shifted quickly to their side but I thought we reacted pretty well under the circumstances," Koivu said. "We stayed calm and we were able to get to our game plan."
Alexander Semin scored his 31st goal with 33.3 seconds remaining in the middle period, once again drawing the Capitals within one.
"The real plus for our game was we were down 3-0 in a building that can get fairly intimidating for a team when they get behind and we came out and got some pucks deep and managed to play physical," Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said.
Halak stopped 15 shots for Montreal, which ended a six-game losing streak Sunday with a 3-2 win in Columbus in the Slovak rookie's NHL debut.
"He made the saves that were needed," Koivu said. "In both games they scored two goals about a minute apart but the good thing was that he was still able to stay calm and keep his focus, and in the third period, when those big saves were needed, he made them and that's obviously a big boost for our team confidence-wise."
Brent Johnson made 27 saves as Washington, which was outshot 32-18, lost its fourth in a row (0-3-1).
Higgins opened the scoring 7:33 in on the first of five Canadiens power plays in the opening period.
The Smithville, N.Y., native got his 15th goal of the season -- his first since Jan. 13 -- when he wound up with the puck on the right edge of the crease after Koivu's shot struck a bunch of legs and banked a shot into the net off Johnson.
Capitals defenseman Shaone Morrisonn went to the dressing room at 13:43 after he was elbowed behind the net by Alexander Perezhogin, who drew a double minor for high-sticking on the play. With a pool of blood on the ice where Morrisonn lay before he was helped off the ice, Hanlon vainly argued for an elbowing call.
The Capitals' man advantage was short-lived as Semin was sent off for hooking at 14:07, followed by Brian Pothier, who was called for holding at 14:25.
Ryder scored his 18th on the ensuing 4-on-3 to put Montreal up 2-0.
The Canadiens took advantage of a 5-on-3 when Higgins scored his second of the period at 15:37, just 12 seconds after Milan Jurcina was sent off for hooking.
"It was out of character, some of the penalties that we took, especially when you're playing against a team with one of the better power plays in the league," Hanlon said.
Heward got the Capitals back in the game in the second when his point shot went in off Sutherby 2:06 into the middle period. The Washington defenseman beat Halak cleanly with another shot from the point at 2:36 to make it 3-2.
Ryder restored Montreal's two-goal lead with his 19th goal at 16:01 while Higgins was serving a double minor for high sticking.
Semin scored for the third straight game late in the second when he cut down the left side and flipped a shot over Halak's left shoulder and under the crossbar.
- Sutherby lost a stick to a fan in the first period when it went between a gap between panes of glass. Bell Centre security staff were booed when a guard firmly demanded the stick's return. The fan, one of five in a row wearing vintage Canadiens jerseys at rinkside, ultimately was given another stick.
- Morrisonn returned for the second period.
- D Janne Niinimaa and RW Aaron Downey were healthy scratches for Montreal.