For the second time in three games and the second time in as many home games, the Washington Capitals dug their way out of a three-goal hole, tied the game on an Alex Ovechkin goal in the final minute of regulation and earned a shootout victory. The Caps downed the visiting Philadelphia Flyers in that fashion on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center, five days after besting the Tampa Bay Lightning with the same formula.
Sunday’s comeback triumph was a little more special than Tuesday’s. First, it came against a division rival in a game the Flyers seemingly had well in hand. Second, while Washington started its rally from a three-goal deficit in the first period of Tuesday’s game, the Caps erased a three-goal deficit with less than nine minutes remaining in regulation on Sunday against the stunned Flyers.
“Nothing changed,” says Caps coach Adam Oates of his team’s comeback. “[We got] a little bit of luck on the first goal. We got some life. The emotion of the game I guess would be the one thing. Obviously the crowd gets into it and you feel a little bit better and make a push, win a draw and before you know it, it’s a game.”
After mustering a combined total of just 14 shots on net in the first two periods, the Caps poured 16 on the Philly net in the third, and they met with success.
“I’m not sure that we relaxed,” says Flyers head coach Craig Berube. “I thought that we were in our end too much there at the end instead of making some plays and getting down in their end a little bit and killing time and getting some offensive chances.”
The Caps drew first blood in the matinee match, tallying on their second power play opportunity of the first frame. Nicklas Backstrom saucered a cross-ice-pass to Ovechkin, who one-timed what looked like a slap-pass right back to Backstrom’s side of the ice, but down low at the opposite goalpost. That’s where Marcus Johansson was stationed, and the puck deflected past Flyers goalie Steve Mason at 11:17 of the first for a 1-0 Washington lead.
The goal was originally credited to Johansson, but after the game it was switched to Ovechkin, the puck apparently glancing off Flyers’ defenseman Kimmo Timonen and into the cage.
Washington nursed that slimmest of leads into the final minute of the frame, but it couldn’t quite nurse it to intermission. Flyers captain Claude Giroux knotted the game on a fine backhand feed from Michael Raffl with 53.5 seconds left in the first to make it a 1-1 game.
The Caps have led only seven times in 33 games at the first intermission this season.
Just before the midpoint of the second period, the Flyers took the lead. Karl Alzner’s pass through the neutral zone was intended for Backstrom, but Raffl picked it off and fed Flyers defenseman Mark Streit, who took off in transition. Streit’s wrist shot beat Caps goalie Philipp Grubauer to the glove side to give Philly its first lead of the afternoon.
The Caps were only down a goal heading into the third, but that changed quickly. Shortly after the Caps’ Steve Oleksy and Philly’s Wayne Simmonds went off for fighting, Flyers forward Sean Couturier threw a puck toward the Washington net from the left wing corner. The disc hit Grubauer’s stick and banked in for a 3-1 Flyers lead at the 2:18 mark.
Philly wasted little time in padding its advantage. Just 74 seconds after the Couturier tally, Jakub Voracek parked at the top of the paint and deflected Raffl’s one-timer past Grubauer for a 4-1 Philadelphia bulge.
The Caps still had plenty of time with which to work, but it was slow sledding at first. Washington went on a power play at 6:42 of the third, but was unable to produce much of a threat.
After some nifty passing high in the Philadelphia zone, Capitals defenseman Mike Green made the score a more respectable 4-2 when he netted his second goal of the season at 11:20 of the third, and the Caps had a chance to pull closer when Streit went off for delay of game just seconds later. But the Caps’ power-play unit again was unable to sustain any pressure in the Flyers’ end.
With 3:35 left in the third, Philadelphia was guilty of icing the puck. Oates deployed a forward trio of Jay Beagle with Eric Fehr and Joel Ward for a left-dot draw in the Philly zone. Beagle was chased from the circle, but Ward managed to wrest the draw from Couturier with plenty of help from his linemates.
Fehr nudged the puck back to Dmitry Orlov at the left point, and the defenseman fired a high shot through a screen and past Mason to tighten it to 4-3.
“I got booted out of there,” says Beagle, “and you don’t like to get kicked out of draws. Wardo goes in there and does a great job. Fehrsie puts it back to Orly, and that was a huge goal. It was good to be a part of it and it got the team going.”
In the penultimate minute of regulation, Oates pulled Grubauer in favor of an extra skater, but put the goaltender back in for a neutral zone draw. Ward again bested Couturier, and Washington eventually dumped the puck into the Flyers’ end. Mason went behind the goal to play it, but he gave it away to Ward while Ovechkin was jumping onto the ice and tearing into the attack zone.
Ward spotted Ovechkin cruising into the zone and threaded the puck to him. Ovechkin did the rest, beating Mason low to the stick side to make it a 4-4 game with 47.9 seconds left in regulation.
Grubauer gave up a couple of goals he said he thought he should have had, but he also made some highlight reel stops throughout the game that kept the Caps within striking distance. Working in the shootout for the third time in his last three appearances, Grubauer prevailed over Mason to get the two points for his team.
“It was unbelievable,” says Grubauer. “Thanks to the guys. It was a good win, a good comeback. We have a great offense. We can score, so every time you need a goal, it seems like we can put the puck in the net, which is good for us.”
Washington has won six of its last eight games, picking up at least a point in seven of the eight (6-1-1).
Shuffling The Deck – Washington made a few roster moves prior to Sunday afternoon’s game. The Caps activated defenseman John Erskine from injured reserve and reassigned defenseman Nate Schmidt to AHL Hershey.
The Capitals also recalled center Michael Latta from Hershey and placed center Brooks Laich on long-term injured reserve. Laich will be eligible to return to action on Dec. 22.
Center Mikhail Grabovski was a last-minute scratch because of flu-like symptoms. With Grabovski unavailable, Beagle stepped into his second-line spot between Fehr and Troy Brouwer.
Latta manned the middle of Washington’s fourth line with Aaron Volpatti and Tom Wilson.
Schmidt did solid work for Washington during his two months in the District. He totaled two goals and six points while taking just six minutes in penalties over 28 games with the Caps. He averaged 18:58 per night in ice time and was never a healthy scratch during that two-month run with the Capitals.
Forward March – Most of Washington’s injuries this season have affected the team’s blueline. The Caps have used a dozen different defensemen, most in the NHL.
Only three forwards have missed time for the Capitals due to injury or illness, and the Caps have managed to move forth quite well without them in each case.
Ovechkin missed two games with an upper body injury earlier in the season, and Washington won both of those contests. The Caps are now 6-1-1 in the eight games that Laich has missed, and they are 1-0 with Grabovski out of the lineup.
Helping Hands – Backstrom picked up a pair of assists in Sunday’s game, and he now has 28 on the season. Sunday marked his third straight multiple-point game; he now has two goals and nine points in his last three games.
Backstrom also has 26 helpers and 37 points in just 23 career games against Philadelphia and has had at least a point in 20 of those 23 games against the Flyers.
Dating back to last season, Backstrom now has 14 goals and 69 points in his last 62 games. Coincidentally, he had exactly 14 goals and 69 points during his rookie NHL season of 2007-08, but needed 82 games with which to amass those totals.
Philly Killer – Backstrom is not the only Caps skater who has a tendency to inflict damage upon Philadelphia goaltenders. With his two tallies in Sunday’s game, Ovechkin now has 26 goals and 41 points in 30 career contests against the Flyers.
The Caps’ captain’s game-tying tally in the final minute of regulation was the 399th goal of his NHL career. Only Peter Bondra (472) has scored more goals in a Washington sweater.
Ovechkin started the afternoon with 397 goals, tied with Hockey Hall of Famer Mike Gartner for second on the Capitals’ all-time ledger.
Long Distance Operators – All three of Washington’s third-period goals were scored from launching spots a good distance from the Philadelphia net.
According to the official NHL play-by-play sheet, Green’s goal came from 56 feet away, Orlov’s from 61 and Ovechkin’s from 48 feet.
Double Sawbuck – With two clutch assists in the third period of Sunday’s game, Ward now has 10 on the season and he has matched his point total (20) from 2012-13, doing so in six fewer games than he played last season.
Ward is second on the team with 10 goals and is fifth on the team in scoring.
Doubling Up On Defense – Sunday’s game marked the third time in the Capitals’ last five games that they got two goals from two different defensemen in the contest.
Alzner and Nate Schmidt scored for the Caps last Saturday in a 5-2 win over the Nashville Predators at Verizon Center, and Schmidt and Steve Oleksy accounted for half of Washington’s scoring a night later when the Caps took a 4-1 victory over the Rangers in New York.
Back In The Saddle Again – Erskine appeared in the lineup for the Caps for just the eighth time in the team’s 33 games this season and the first time since Oct. 26 at Calgary.
He skated 12:50 against the Flyers on Sunday, blocking three shots and finishing at minus-2 on the night.
While Erskine was out of the lineup, Green surpassed him as the Capitals’ most experienced defenseman in terms of regular season games played in the NHL. Green played in his 463rd game in the league on Sunday while Erskine skated in his 462nd.
The 400 Club – Brouwer played in the 400th game of his NHL career on Sunday against Philadelphia.
Brouwer made his NHL debut on Dec. 23, 2006 for the Chicago Blackhawks in a game in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.
Down On the Farm – The ECHL Reading Royals dropped a 3-2 home ice decision to the Elmira Jackals at Santander Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Reading got goals from Ryan Cruthers and Yannick Tifu and a 35-save effort from Riley Gill in the Royals crease in a losing effort.
The 10-9-1-0 Royals are now 10 points behind Wheeling for the top spot in the ECHL’s Atlantic Division. Reading is now without a win in its last five games (0-4-1-0).
By The Numbers – John Carlson led the Caps with 29:38 in ice time on Sunday … Ovechkin led the Caps with seven shots on net. He and Jason Chimera paced the Capitals with five hits each … Fehr and Oleksy were the only two Washington skaters not to be credited with at least one hit in the game … Erskine, Oleksy and Carlson tied for the team lead with three hits each … Couturier led the Flyers with five shots on net and he led all forwards in the game with 25:43 in ice time, but he won only eight of 28 (29%) face-offs on the night … Raffl entered the game with three assists on the season and for his NHL career. The rookie doubled his helper total on Sunday; all three were primary assists and there wasn’t a weak one in the bunch. Sunday marks the second multiple-point game of Raffl’s NHL career and his first three-point game in the league.