For the Flyers and Capitals to one-up their thrilling tilt from this past Sunday, it was going to take a truly special showing by both teams. Although the game did not come to the epic finish that it did in Washington, much to the Flyers delight, it was dangerously close. Nevertheless, the Orange-and-Black collect another two mammoth points and do it against a division foe following Wednesday’s 6-4 win.
The Flyers picked up right where they left off on Sunday, peppering Washington netminder Braden Holtby with shots, and overwhelming the Capitals defense with a relentless forecheck. After dictating play for nearly the entire first portion of the opening stanza, the captain Claude Giroux turned in a dandy of a goal to put his team on top.
The backhand tally left Holtby completely undressed and put Philadelphia up 1-0 early on. Under two minutes later, with the team on the power play, Jakub Voracek blasted one home past the floundering Capitals goalie and, before it was 10 minutes into the contest, Philadelphia had taken a 2-0 lead.
With their team on the ropes, Washington tried to ratchet up the physicality to try to inject some emotion into their bench. Most notably defenseman John Erskine seemed intent to serve that role for his team. After a series of particularly bone-crunching body checks by both teams, patience wore too thin and the two noted enemies erupted into their second ‘line brawl’ of their season series.
Erskine locked horns with Vincent LeCavalier who, despite his reputation as a scorer, handled his own for the most part. It may have been the fact that Wayne Simmonds was draped all over Erskine, an infraction that would cost the Flyers winger two minutes in the sin-bin, but LeCavalier made it out of the fight bloodied, but with his head held high. Defenseman Luke Schenn and young Capitals bruiser Tom Wilson also had a brief sparring session before the officials broke it up. Fortunately for the Flyers, despite the penalties, none of the Capitals enforcers scored a decisive enough win to tip the psychological scale back in their favor. The first period would come to a close with the Flyers comfortably ahead in shots (13-3) and on the scoreboard, leading 2-0.
The Flyers came out with the same purpose in the 2nd period. Their ability to force turnovers in the offensive zone combined with their impressive puck control exhausted the Capitals, who were desperately trying to right the ship. A particularly workmanlike play by Scott Hartnell just over five minutes into the stanza forced a Mike Green turnover and the puck popped right on the stick of Giroux who rocketed his second of the game past Holtby’s shoulder. A milestone tally for the fiery Flyers captain put his team up by a field goal, 3-0.
First time in Claude Giroux’s career he has consecutive 2 goal games
— John Clark CSN (@JClarkCSN) March 6, 2014
Just over halfway through the contest, with the Flyers continuing to hem the Capitals in their own zone, the newest member of the team made his presence felt. Andrew MacDonald, who turned in a very solid 18:07 in ice time to go along with a +2 rating and three blocked shots (tied for the team lead), made a nice keep along the blue line before sending the puck across to his partner, Luke Schenn. Schenn wound one in on net and Michael Raffl potted the perfect deflection past Holtby for the Flyer’s 4th goal of the contest. Raffl had to go through quite the day of travel after the Flyers’ acquisition of MacDonald due to the rules regarding players with AHL eligibility and the NHL’s roster size. His eighth goal of the season to go along with MacDonald’s first point, an assist, as a Flyer probably smoothed things over between the two new teammates.
Go to Glens Falls and report… and then come right back. Sucks for him, but those are the rules… #Flyers
— Anthony SanFilippo (@InsideTheFlyers) March 4, 2014
Holtby, who had allowed nine goals in essentially five periods over the two games with the Flyers, was pulled in favor for Philipp Grubauer. With half of the contest in the rear-view mirror, all the Flyers had to do was keep the foot on the jugular and they would be able to escape with a relatively easy win that also saw Vincent LeCavalier essentially get the night off. As the Flyers well know, from personal experience, that’s not exactly how things work in the NHL.
Towards the end of a two-minute minor on Luke Schenn, who dove at Jason Chimera’s feet to slow a Washington rush, the Capitals finally broke through on a shot that bounced through several bodies before ultimately being credited to Joel Ward. Steve Mason had seen very few shots over the course of the first two periods (Washington had eight in the first 40 minutes) and the pinball style shot handcuffed the Philadelphia netminder. They would not allow any more damage through the second, and would lead the game 4-1 with 20 minutes remaining.
In their second meeting of the season, the Flyers had surrendered a 4-1 lead to fall to the Capitals in Washington in a shootout. After seeing Philadelphia do just that to them on their home ice, one had to figure the high-powered Capitals would do their best to make a run before things were all said and done. The Caps would inch closer courtesy of the power play yet again just over six minutes into the 3rd period. After controlling Alex Ovechkin, a player who has shined throughout his career against the Flyers, for the better part of the last two games, the NHL’s leading scorer finally broke through. With his teammates tirelessly working to create the opening for Ovechkin’s patented blast from the left faceoff circle, Nicklas Backstrom saucered a perfect feed right on the tape to Ovechkin. The ‘Great Eight’ was nearly robbed by a spectacular glove save by Mason, but the sheer momentum and weight of the shot was enough to cause the Flyers netminder to bobble it and, just like that, Ovechkin’s 44th goal cut Flyers lead to two.
A poor miscommunication between two of the Flyers top defenseman, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn led to the Caps third goal. The two of them approached the puck in the corner, giving Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen a wide open Troy Brouwer in front for a blast of a one-timer. Not even ten minutes into the final 20 minutes of play, the Flyers had seen a 4-0 deficit evaporate into a single goal lead. Not only were the Flyers fading on the scoreboard, but their dominant play of the first 2/3 of the game had given way to sloppy play and a lack of conviction in their philosophies. For Philadelphia to hold on for the win, it would take a mentally strong showing to keep the humming Caps from completing the comeback.
Jakub Voracek looked as if he stemmed the tide for good, when he sprung free on a breakaway and snapped a shot past Grubauer. Voracek’s 2nd of the game and 18th on the season re-established the two goal lead with just over eight minutes remaining. However, a quick Mark Streit penalty immediately put the vaunted Capitals power play back in action. Once again in the waning seconds of the man-advantage, the Capitals were able to squirt one past Mason. A Mike Green point shot deflected home by veteran forward Brooks Laich instantly brought the tense feel back to the Wells Fargo Center. The power play goal with six minutes on the board ensured a riveting finish to regulation between two teams desperate for the win.
Although there were some close calls, I would argue the team played much more poised in the final 5+ minutes of the third period than they had over the first 15. The tremendous support and emphasis on skating had returned, and gone were the ambitious stretch passes and spin-o-rama’s that had gotten the team in trouble over the better part of the 3rd period. The Capitals would pull Grubauer as a latch ditch effort to try to replicate the Flyers Sunday comeback to secure at least a point with a trip to overtime.
It was not to be for Washington, however. With Sean Couturier‘s line on the ice, a strong play along the boards by Matt Read allowed him to secure the puck just long enough to make a clean feed to his linemate, Steve Downie. Downie, whose careless penalty early in the 3rd period gave a breath of life to the Capitals, whipped the puck the length of the ice into the empty cage to tie a bow on a 6-4 win with :52 remaining.
The regulation win gave the Flyers a 3-1-1 season-series win over their new division rival, the Capitals. Washington acquired netminder Jaroslav Halak at the trade deadline, so one could argue it is a relief the teams will not meet again for the regular season. The victory also kept the Flyers two points clear of the New York Rangers, who fell in overtime to the Maple Leafs, in the division. The Flyers have won three straight since losing their first game out of the Olympic Break.
Claude Giroux is on a tear not seen out of the Flyers captain since the team’s playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins two seasons ago. At times, the Philadelphia pivot almost single-handedly dominated the contest and continued to give Braden Holtby nightmares. He moved into a 6th place tie in the NHL with 64 points and shows no signs of slowing. In the past 32 games, Giroux has an astounding 44 points and the team improved to 17-2-1 when their captain scores. As far as the rest of the team, as long as they play the way they did over the first 40 minutes, they can play with just about anyone. It is when the Flyers start racking up careless penalties, 32 PIM on Wednesday, that things start to get shaky. Coach Craig Berube has exclaimed incessantly that the team takes too many dumb minors, but their problems persist. Despite getting away with it recently, those sort of penalty numbers won’t hold up against the NHL’s elite team.
The Flyers get a few days rest before heading North-of-the-Border for a Saturday matinee. They will visit old friend James van Riemsdyk and the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs, who sit third in the Atlantic Division, are two points ahead of Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference standings with one more game played. Toronto got the better of Philadelphia in their first meeting of the season, albeit under unique circumstances. They happened to get the Flyers in their first game of the season, winning the game 3-1. It was one of seven losses by the team in their first eight games, and one has to think that the Maple Leafs are expecting a different team entirely. Every one of the team’s 19 remaining games is like a playoff game with the logjam in the conference. Contests like Saturday can make an immense difference when it comes to positioning the team for any sort of run. The team needs to take these two points, put the win behind them, and start focusing on an excellent Maple Leafs squad.