Two The Hard Way – The last time Caps goalie Michal Neuvirth was between the pipes in Philadelphia, he gave up a goal to the Flyers’ Jeff Carter in the first minute of the game and departed with an injury after the first period.
Tuesday’s visit to Philly turned out better for Neuvirth and the Caps, but it didn’t always look like it would.
Staked to a 3-0 lead on goals from Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Knuble and Dennis Wideman in the first 22 minutes of tonight’s game with the Flyers, Neuvirth battled through some lackluster coverage down low and some egregious turnovers in front of him to earn a 5-4 shootout win over the Flyers. He also made some key stops and got some help from the goalposts and some favorable bounces.
“They’re very good down low,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau of the Flyers. “They know how to play. We went over it all before the game and yesterday on what they do down low, so we knew that.
“But I think our biggest problem in the second period was turning the puck over. The first period, we didn’t have any turnovers. We got it out, we got it deep. In the second period and the third period they were putting more pressure on us but we were turning the puck over.”
After yanking their own rookie goaltender (Sergei Bobrovsky) when he surrendered his third goal against on just nine shots at the 1:22 mark of the second period, Philadelphia scored four unanswered goals to forge a 4-3 lead over the Capitals.
The Capitals nursed a 3-1 lead into the waning seconds of the second period, but Claude Giroux’s goal in the final minute of the middle frame pulled the home team to within one. Momentum had been teetering toward the Flyers for the better part of the second, but it was firmly on Philly’s side going into the third.
A defensive zone turnover led to Andreas Nodl’s tying goal midway through the third.
“We were a little lucky there in the first period,” says Backstrom. “I think they came out harder in the second period and they worked us down low there. They made it tougher for us.
“At the same time, I think it’s strong of us that we found a way to get back in the game when they scored four straight goals there. We’re happy about the two points. Sometimes, the game is not fair.”
With momentum, a 4-3 lead and just 5:45 left to play, it looked like the Flyers had gained the upper hand once and for all after Danny Briere’s tie-breaking tally.
Washington wasn’t done yet, though.
With just 3:19 left in regulation, rookie center Marcus Johansson took a Knuble pass and fired a one-timer from the left circle that short-sided relief netminder Brian Boucher and pushed the game into overtime.
“I saw [Knuble] got the puck,” says Johansson. “He’s good at creating his own time. I just found an opening and I was ready to shoot. I got a great pass and a lucky shot.”
With the win, Washington earned its fourth Stanley Cup playoff berth in the last four seasons.
“The important part from our standpoint,” says Boudreau, “was that a team comes back and scores four goals and gets the lead and then you have the character that doesn’t quit. I think most teams would have [folded] in this building as loud as it was with all the momentum. We weren’t getting any shots and then we came back. Just to have the wherewithal to come back in a game like that was important to us.”
Snipers – When Wideman beat Bobrovsky and chased him from the cage early in the seond period, it was Washington’s third goal on nine shots in Tuesday’s game. In their 3-0 win over the Devils on Friday, the Caps scored three times in just 12 shots.
After Wideman’s tally, the Caps had scored on six of their prior 21 shots on net for a lofty shooting pct. of 28.6%.
Eight Straight for Mr. March – Knuble’s first-period goal was his 20th of the season, marking the eighth consecutive season in which he has achieved that plateau.
With a goal and two assists on the night, Knuble now has 50 career goals and 100 points in 168 games in the month of March. March has been the most prosperous month for Knuble throughout his career; he has 44 goals in both December and January and 84 points in November.
Two Spot – Washington held a 2-0 lead after the first frame tonight in Philadelphia, the first time it held a two-goal lead after the first 20 minutes of play since a Feb. 1 home ice game against the Montreal Canadiens.
Lettermen – With captain Alex Ovechkin on the sidelines, Caps defenseman Scott Hannan sported the alternate captain’s “A” on his sweater in Philadelphia along with usual road alternate captains Backstrom and Jason Chimera.
Powering Up – The Capitals played more than 125 minutes of hockey at Wells Fargo Center this season, and they came away with a grand total of two power play chances, both of them in tonight’s game. The Caps cashed in on one of those opportunities when Wideman netted his ninth power play goal of the season early in the second period.
Washington’s extra-man unit is now 6-for-20 (30%) in its last seven games.
The Gangs That Couldn’t Shoot Straight – Both the Capitals and the Flyers misfired on more shots than they got on net in Tuesday’s game. Washington teed up 51 shots, but only 23 went on net. The Caps had 14 shots blocked and they missed the net 14 times.
Philadelphia attempted 70 shots, getting 33 on goal. The Flyers had 21 shots blocked and missed the net on 16 occasions.
Kids In The Cage – The match-up between Neuvirth and Bobrovsky marked the first time two rookie goalies with 20 or more wins backstopping division-leading teams went head-to-head after March 1 of a given season since April 18, 2006. Ottawa rookie Ray Emery bested Rangers freshman Henrik Lundqvist 5-1 in that contest nearly five years ago.
By The Numbers – The Flyers outhit the Capitals 29-17 on the night. Andrej Meszaros led the Flyers with six hits while Matt Bradley paced the Caps with four … Kris Versteeg’s goal in the second period ended Neuvirth’s shutout streak at 95:35 … John Erskine (+1) was the only Caps’ defenseman to finish the night on the plus side of the ledger … Fifteen of Washington’s 21 shot blocks on the night came from its defensemen with John Carlson (six) and Hannan (four) leading the way … Jay Beagle won five of six draws (83%).