Facing a Philadelphia team that played on Saturday night in Raleigh and had to travel home for a 5 p.m. Sunday face-off, the Capitals figured to have a bit of an advantage in terms of energy and rest. Other than traveling to Philly, Washington took Saturday off and it was in the City of Brotherly Love hours before the Flyers’ game against the Hurricanes even started.
Generally speaking, the rested team wants to get an early jump on the tired team in order to make them feel those heavy legs, make them chase the game with their depleted energy stores. But the Caps couldn’t convert that theory into actual execution on Sunday against the Flyers, and they wound up on the wrong end of a 6-3 beating as a result.
The Caps weren’t sharp enough to hang with the Flyers on Sunday. Washington’s passes weren’t crisp, its decisions weren’t sound, and its puck management was mediocre at best. Despite having played on the road the night before, the Flyers were sharper, their game was more detailed, and they didn’t look like a weary team.
“I thought we had all of the advantage tonight,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “They played [Saturday], you know they’re going to be in desperate mode, they’re in playoff mode, trying to get above the line, if you will, or stay above the line as they have been. You know they’re going to give a good effort, but at the same time, they played [Saturday] night.
“We had a lot of the advantage; we were in our beds watching the game. We talked about taking control of the game early and making it real hard on them. I don’t think we did that; we didn’t make it hard enough on them. We just played.”
There was a fair amount of four-on-four play in the first couple of periods of Sunday’s game, and the Flyers took advantage of one of those situations to forge a 1-0 lead early in the second, after the two teams played a scoreless first 20 minutes.
Philadelphia center Claude Giroux won a left dot face-off cleanly in the offensive zone, drawing the puck back to Shayne Gostisbehere. From a few feet above the left circle, Gostisbehere cranked a one-timer over the outstretched glove hand of Caps goaltender Philipp Grubauer, staking the Flyers to a 1-0 lead at 2:15 of the second period.
Washington didn’t have much going on offensively, and its puck management and decision making with the puck were both lacking in the middle period. The Caps were able to briefly get the game tied up toward the end of the middle frame, as Alex Ovechkin added to his league-leading goal total.
John Carlson sent Travis Boyd into the Philadelphia zone, and Boyd carried toward the middle of the ice, attracting the attention of a pair of orange sweaters. From the high slot, Boyd whirled and set a flat backhander toward the net. Ovechkin got a stick on it and neatly redirected it past Philly netminder Petr Mrazek to make it a 1-1 game at 15:08 of the second.
That was as good as it would get for Washington on Sunday. The Caps melted down in the final two minutes of the middle period, turning the puck over and watching as the Flyers turned those turnovers into instant offense.
From behind his own net, Caps defenseman Michal Kempny pushed a backhand pass for partner John Carlson, but the puck squibbed off the end of Carlson’s blade and went right to Philly forward Jakub Voracek. Voracek quickly fed Oskar Lindblom in the slot, and Lindblom whipped a shot past Grubauer with 1:41 left in the second to put the Flyers on top, 2-1. The goal was the first of Lindblom’s NHL career.
Just over a minute later, the Flyers extended their lead. After Ovechkin turned the puck over upon entry into Philadelphia ice, the Flyers came back in transition. Sean Couturier carried into the Caps’ zone, and he fed Radko Gudas at the right point. Nicklas Backstrom blocked Gudas’ shot, but the puck came to Ivan Provorov on the left half wall. Provorov put a shot on goal through traffic, and it bounded in off the shin of Caps defenseman Christian Djoos for a 3-1 Philly lead with just 18.3 seconds left in the second period.
Early in the third, Philly netted its third goal in just over three minutes of playing time to push its advantage to 4-1.
Valtteri Filppula beat Jay Beagle on a draw in the Washington zone, winning the puck back to Radko Gudas at the left point. Gudas put the puck on a tee for partner Robert Hagg, who fired a one-timer from center point. Philly forward Wayne Simmonds tipped the shot past Grubauer for the Flyers’ third goal in just 3:18 of playing time, and a 4-1 Philadelphia lead. That goal – the eventual game-winner – came in the wake of one of only two draws Beagle lost all night, out of the 13 face-offs he took.
Even when the game was 1-1 after Ovechkin’s goal, the Caps were fortunate that the score was even.
“I feel the same way,” agrees Beagle. “Obviously we came in after the first not happy at the way we played, and the way Grubi had to stand on his head just to keep us in it.
“It’s a learning experience. We’ve got make sure, coming down the stretch here we’re facing teams, and us, ourselves, I know it’s kind of lame to say, but [we have to] play playoff hockey. You really do. You have to start right now. Teams that are fighting for spots and teams are a little more desperate, we have to match how desperate they are. We’ve got to go after them instead of sitting back and waiting for the game to come to us. That’s all of us. I think we got to learn from this and make sure we don’t let it happen again, especially going into these last 10 [games].”
The game was basically over at that point, but the two sides traded goals the rest of the way. The Caps made it 4-2 at 10:31 when Chandler Stephenson converted a nifty feed from Jakub Vrana off a two-on-one rush.
Less than four minutes later, yet another Caps turnover turned into yet another Flyers goal, Simmonds’ second of the night on a free shot from the slot at 14:27.
Carlson scored with 3:53 left to make it a 5-3 game, and the Caps pulled Grubauer for an extra attacker in a vain attempt to pull even. Voracek scored into an empty net in the game’s final minute to account for the 6-3 final score.
“I thought we came in and started off the game well and we just kept going,” says Simmonds. “You don’t always get the goals right at the start so you have to fight and battle for the 60 minutes. Tonight we had a great second. We got three. Then we got three in the third.”