April 17 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Wachovia Center
Game 4, Eastern Conference quarterfinal series (Philly leads, 2-1)
Time: 7:00 pm
TV: Versus, Comcast SportsNet, TSN
Radio: WJFK 106.7 FM, WFED 1050 AM, X
Pre-Game: Pre-Cap Podcast at 3 p.m. on washingtoncaps.com
Washington Capitals (43-31-8, 94 points in regular season)
Philadelphia Flyers (42-29-11, 95 points in regular season)
For only the second time in Bruce Boudreau’s tenure as head coach, the Washington Capitals have lost consecutive games in regulation. Those two losses have the Caps down 2-1 in their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Philadelphia Flyers. Washington takes on the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday in Game 4 of the series.
Philly went up 2-1 in the series by virtue of a 6-3 win over the Caps here in Game 3 on Tuesday night. Although the Caps have played only one really strong period (the third stanza of Friday’s Game 1) in this series, they are only one strong 60-minute effort away from evening the series and regaining home ice advantage, as slim an advantage as that may be at playoff time.
The trick will be putting together that 60-minute effort on Thursday in Game 4.
Washington has been outplayed on special teams and at even strength, and has not yet played the way it played down the stretch when it put on a furious finish to win 15 of its last 19, 12 of its last 13 and seven in a row at the close of the regular season.
The Caps have two power play goals in 16 tries (12.5%) in the series, and they have rarely been able to establish a sustained forecheck against Philly.
“We want to get more shots there and more traffic,” says Caps center Brooks Laich. “I think at times we’ve been a little too [much on the] perimeter on our power play. One-for-seven is not good enough. We need to do a better job than that. We’re going to have to get pucks there, traffic in front and try to bang in a couple.”
With blueliner Jeff Schultz ailing because of an upper-body injury, Caps defenseman Steve Eminger may be back in the lineup on Thursday. Eminger, who last played in Washington’s 5-4 win in Game 1, was asked what he has seen in watching the Caps’ successive losses in Games 2 and 3.
“They’re outworking and outhitting us,” says Eminger. “And that’s it. There’s no secret to their game. There’s no secret attack or anything.”
There’s no secret attack, but the Caps could certainly stand to be a little more physical with Flyer forwards who crash the net and try to rattle Caps goaltender Cristobal Huet.
“They’ve been taking a little liberty there,” admits Eminger. “I think [Scott] Hartnell has done it about three times now. It’s no secret what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to get in [Huet’s] face, get him frustrated and get him off his game. It’s our job as defensemen to get in there, clear them out and not give them a chance to get in there.”
Another significant Capitals shortcoming of late has been the team’s inability to get shots on Flyers goaltender Martin Biron, who has a mediocre save pct. of .886 in this series despite spinning a shutout in Game 2.
In Tuesday’s Game 3 loss, the Caps had just 19 shots on goal, the fewest they’ve had in any game in nearly four months. Worse, the Caps had 25 shots blocked and missed the net altogether with 18 other bids.
Through the series to date, the Caps have 70 shots on goal, and average of just 23.3 per game, ranking 14th among the 16 playoff entrants. During the regular season, Washington averaged 31 shots on goal per game, tied for fifth in the NHL. And the Flyers allowed 31.8 shots per game during the regular season. They ranked 27th in the league in that department.
Washington has had 57 shots blocked and has had 44 more miss the net altogether, meaning that only 70 of the Capitals’ 171 attempted shots have gotten to their intended target. By comparison, Philly has averaged 30.3 shots on goal per game (91 shots in three games) and has had just 37 shots blocked. The Flyers have missed altogether 41 times.
“They’re doing a good job of blocking [shots] and taking away lanes,” says Laich. “You see that every year in the playoffs. You see guys who usually don’t block shots now are all of a sudden blocking shots, getting in lanes, making you shoot it wide. It’s tougher to get shots, tougher to get chances because everyone plays so desperate defensively.
“We just have to make better decisions with the puck. Take the shots when they’re there, when they’re not there, don’t try and force them and put them into pads so it goes out to the neutral zone. Just make better decisions with the puck, get pucks to the net and get pucks around the net, get people there and good things will happen.”
Caps coach Bruce Boudreau sees it similarly.
“I don’t know if that’s more Philly and [it being the] the playoffs,” says the bench boss, “blocking shots and paying the price rather than it is our not making good shots. But it’s probably a combination of both.
“We’ve just got to stick to it. That’s just a skill thing. You’ve got to shoot the puck and hit the net. It’s frustrating for coaches when you hear glass after a shot, especially for a guy who used to take pride in being able to score a couple goals. Hit the net. They’re trying to be too cute, trying to be perfect and that’s not the way you succeed.”
Finally, the Caps could stand to score the game’s first goal and play with the lead for a while. The Caps have not held the lead since Game 1, and have been down by a pair less than 20 minutes into each of the last two games.
“We’d like to have it,” says Laich. “[On Tuesday] they got off to a good start but we got a goal back. We want to play with the lead. It’s something we haven’t done much in this series. If we can get one or two early and maybe shake them up and make them chase us a little, maybe they get off their game plan and we can be sticking to ours. A goal early would be nice, but we’re going to have to work hard for it.”
If the Caps had played their best in the series and were down 2-1 or 3-0, there would be reason to worry. But Washington has yet to play to its capability. Hopefully it can do so before the series ends, and there is no better time to start than Game 4.
“We still think we have a lot of hockey left,” declares Laich. “We’re excited to get back on the ice [Thursday]. Losing two in a row is something that doesn’t sit well in here. We’re looking for a big response because we don’t want to go down 3-1 and put ourselves in a hole.”
From a purely historical standpoint, the Flyers have to feel like they’re in the driver’s seat. In Philadelphia franchise history, the Flyers are 16-3 in playoff series in which they’ve gone up 2-1.
Philadelphia scored three times in a span of just 2:28 in the waning minutes of the first to forge a 3-1 after the first frame. Danny Briere’s power play goal – his second goal of the game – with 9.8 seconds left in the second period proved to be the game-winner.
The Flyers defense got a boost when veteran blueliner Derian Hatcher returned to action after missing a month with a broken bone in his leg. He skated 20:34 in his first playoff action since 2006, blocked four shots, had three hits and was a plus-3.
Philadelphia defenseman Kimmo Timonen suffered an upper body injury late in the second period when he went sailing into the Washington net and appeared to collide with the camera stationed in the back of the goal. He left and did not return to Game 3, but is likely to play in Game 4 on Thursday.
Notes: Washington led three different times in Game 1, for a total of 17:11. The Caps have not held a lead since.
Fun Fact: Through the first three games of the Flyers-Caps series, Washington has gotten more combined offensive production from its fourth line than its first. The trio of Donald Brashear, David Steckel and Matt Bradley started the series as the team’s fourth line, but they’ve split up since. They’ve accounted for two goals, six points and an even defensive rating.
The top unit of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kozlov has one goal and four points and is minus-6.
Short Shifts: Nicklas Backstrom has a goal and six points in four career games against the Flyers. He had three goals and 10 points in his last 10 regular season games. Backstrom finished with 69 points, second among all NHL rookies. He led NHL freshmen with 55 assists and was tied for third among rookies with a plus-13 defensive rating … Matt Bradley has three goals and five points in 16 career contests against Philadelphia. He played plus or even hockey in each of the final 11 games of the regular season, posting a plus-3 defensive rating during that stretch … Donald Brashear has three goals, five points and 103 PIM in 23 career games against the Flyers. He played plus or even hockey in each of his last six regular season games … Chris Clark has three goals and nine points in 14 career games against Philly … Matt Cooke has four goals and five points in 10 career games against the Flyers. He played plus or even hockey in 21 of his last 22 regular season games, and was plus-7 during that span … Steve Eminger has two assists in 10 career games against Philadelphia. He was a plus or even player in each of his last seven regular season games and was plus-2 during that period … John Erskine played plus or even hockey in each of his last 11 games and was plus-5 during that stretch … Sergei Fedorov has nine goals and 27 points in 23 career games against the Flyers. He had a goal and seven points and was plus-4 in his final six games of the regular season … Tomas Fleischmann a goal and three points in five career games against Philadelphia. He had a goal and three points in his final five regular season games … Boyd Gordon has three assists in 11 career games against the Flyers. He played plus or even hockey in each of the final seven games of the regular season, and was plus-3 overall during that span … Mike Green has two goals and five points in 10 career games against Philadelphia. He had a goal and nine points and was plus-9 in his last seven games of the regular season … Cristobal Huet is 3-0-1 with a shutout, a 2.54 goals against average and a .901 save pct. lifetime against the Flyers. He is 11-2 with two shutouts, a 1.63 goals against average and a .936 save pct. in 13 starts since joining the Caps on Feb. 26. Huet has allowed only 10 even-strength goals in his 13 games with the Capitals. He has won nine straight starts, the longest streak of his career and the longest streak by a Caps goalie since Pete Peeters won nine straight more than 20 years ago, from Jan. 28-Mar. 3, 1987 … Brent Johnson is 2-6 with a 4.54 goals against average and an .857 save pct. lifetime against Philly. He is one win shy of 100 for his NHL career. Since the beginning of December, Johnson is 6-4-1 with a 2.38 goals against average and a .917 save pct in 12 appearances (11 starts) … Milan Jurcina has an assist in eight career contests against Philadelphia … Olie Kolzig is 14-19-3 with a shutout, a 2.74 goals against average and a .908 save pct. lifetime against the Flyers. He became the 23rd NHL goaltender to record 300 career wins when he defeated Calgary on Mar. 14. Since the beginning of February, Kolzig is 7-4-2 with a 2.30 goals against average and a .918 save pct. in 14 games (13 starts). He has allowed two or fewer goals in nine of those 13 starts. He is currently tied with Mike Richter for 22nd place on the NHL’s all-time wins list. Kolzig is one win behind Turk Broda (21st place) and four wins behind Billy Smith (20th) … Viktor Kozlov has 11 goals and 21 points in 43 career games against Philly. He had a goal and eight points and was plus-8 in his last seven regular season games … Brooks Laich has two goals and five points in 11 career games against Philadelphia. He had four goals and 10 points in his final 11 regular season games … Quintin Laing has one assist in two career games against the Flyers. He had 52 blocked shots in 39 regular season games, and is one of only two NHL forwards with more than 30 games played who has more blocked shots than games played. Laing finished the season in a tie for 23rd among NHL forwards in blocked shots … Shaone Morrisonn has a goal and four points in 15 career games against the Flyers. He wais plus-6 in his last five regular season games … Alex Ovechkin has 12 goals and 21 points in 12 career contests against the Flyers. He led the NHL with 65 goals, 112 points, 22 power play goals and 11 game-winning goals. Ovechkin had 26 goals and 47 points in his last 31 regular season games. He had 17 goals and 30 points and was plus-20 in his last 18 games. On Mar. 25 in Carolina, he recorded his 61st goal of the season, eclipsing Dennis Maruk’s previous team record of 60 set in 1981-82. Ovechkin is the first Capital ever to record two 100-point seasons, and he recorded a career best 112 points … Brian Pothier has one goal and three points in 13 career games against the Flyers … Tom Poti has a goal and 15 points in 36 career games against Philly. He had a goal and five points and was plus-6 in his last seven regular season games … Jeff Schultz had two assists and was plus-6 in his last six regular season games … Alexander Semin has four goals and seven points in nine career games against Philadelphia. He had four goals and five points and was plus-2 in his last six regular season games … Martin Biron is 10-7-2 with a shutout, a 2.70 goals against average and a .906 save pct. lifetime against Washington. He was 8-4-4 with two shutouts, a 2.31 goals against average and a .922 save pct. in his last 16 regular season appearances (15 starts) … Daniel Briere has eight goals and 19 points in 21 career contests against the Caps. He had a seven-game scoring streak (five goals, five assists) to close out the regular season and had nine goals and 17 points in his last 15 games … Jeff Carter has four goals and eight points in nine career games against Washington. He had one goal and five points in his last five games … Braydon Coburn has three assists in nine career games against the Capitals … Jim Dowd has two goals and three points in 17 career games against the Caps … Steve Downie has one assist in two career games against the Capitals … Simon Gagne has 16 goals and 29 points in 27 career games against the Caps. He has two goals and seven points in his last 10 games … Scott Hartnell has three goals and seven points in 10 career games against the Capitals … Derian Hatcher has four goals and 12 points in 28 career games against Washington … Randy Jones has one goal and four points in 10 career games against the Capitals. He had a goal and three points and was plus-5 in his last five regular season games … Sami Kapanen has 11 goals and 26 points in 42 career games against the Caps … Mike Knuble has 12 goals and 25 points in 34 career games vs. Washington. He had two goals and four points in his last five regular season games … Lasse Kukkonen has one assist in two career games against the Caps … Joffrey Lupul has two goals and five points in five lifetime tilts against the Capitals. He had two goals and three points in his last four regular season tilts … Jaroslav Modry has two goals and 11 points in 20 career games vs. the Capitals. He played plus or even hockey in each of his last seven regular season contests, posting a plus-5 in that span … Antero Niittymaki is 3-2-1 with a 2.54 goals against average and a .911 save pct. lifetime against the Caps. He won each of his last two regular season starts … Vaclav Prospal has nine goals and 33 points in 48 career games against Washington. He had three goals and nine points in his final eight regular season games … Mike Richards has three goals and nine points in 10 career games against Washington. He had four goals and eight points in his last nine regular season games … Jason Smith has four assists in 30 career games against the Capitals … Kimmo Timonen has a goal and eight points in 13 career games against the Caps … R.J. Umberger has three goals and eight points in 12 career games against Washington … Scottie Upshall has one assist in five career games against the Caps. He had two goals and three points in his last four regular season games.
Injuries Philadelphia Flyers
Defenseman Mike Rathje has a back/hip injury and is out indefinitely.
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen has an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
Left wing Simon Gagne has a mild concussion and is out indefinitely.
Defenseman Brian Pothier has an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
Defenseman Jeff Schultz has an upper body injury and is day-to-day.
Center Michael Nylander underwent shoulder surgery and is out 3-6 months.
Right wing Chris Clark has a groin injury and is day-to-day.
Possible Line Combos and Defensive Pairings
19-Hartnell, 48-Briere, 40-Prospal
9-Upshall, 17-Carter, 22-Knuble
20-Umberger, 18-Richards, 15-Lupul
32-Cote, 34-Dowd, 24-Kapanen