It was a heartbreaking but familiar ending for Washington Capitals Wednesday night as their comeback from a four-goal deficit fell short, resulting in another loss to the Philadelphia Flyers, the second time in four days.
Flyers captain Claude Giroux and forward Jakub Voracek both had two goals as they Flyers put four-point separation between their divisional foe, gaining valuable ground in the crowded Metropolitan.
Coach Adam Oates spoke postgame about the attempted comeback.
“It was a lousy start. After that…I thought we actually played better. The good news is that we did not quit,” he said. “We found something in our game that hopefully we can use for tomorrow.”
Giroux started off the scoring when he outwaited Capitals starting goalie Braden Holtby, pulling the puck to his backhand and slipping it behind the goalie to give the Flyers an early lead.
They added another shortly after with a power play goal from Voracek when Caps defenseman Karl Alzner failed to clear the puck, resulting in a turnover that turned into another goal for Philadelphia.
The heavy-hitting game bubbled over midway through the first when an initial skirmish between Tom Wilson and Luke Shenn escalated into a full-on brawl featuring heavyweights John Erskine and Vincent Lecavalier, along with Wayne Simmonds. Both Erskine and Lecavalier received Game misconduct penalties, ejecting them from the game.
The Flyers had the advantage in shots and hits at the end of the first and added to their lead early into the second when a miscue from Mike Green left the puck for a streaking Giroux, who scored his second of the game top-shelf on Holtby.
The onslaught continued when the Flyers forced a turn-over in the Caps zone. New addition Andrew MacDonald sent the puck across to Luke Shenn, who shot the puck, deflecting off of Michael Raffl to give the home team a sizable lead over the floundering Washington squad. This was the tipping point for Oates, who pulled Holtby in favor of Philipp Grubauer.
Oates spoke on his decision to pull the starter postgame.
“I can’t fault Braden,” he said. “ We had four shots and they had 20 so I can’t fault my goalie.”
Relief finally came for the Caps in the form of a power play goal from Joel Ward when Luke Shenn was whistled for tripping. Good puck movement from the Caps paid off when Alex Ovechkin sent a pass to Mike Green, whose shot from the point was deflected in by Ward to put Washington on the board.
The Caps gained momentum from an important penalty kill late in the third and carried that momentum into the third, notching four shots in the first two minutes of the period and putting the Flyers on their heels for the first time all game.
Ovechkin scored to cut the deficit to two when Nicklas Backstrom sent his line mate a perfect pass to put away his league-leading 44th goal of the season, a quick-release shot, behind Flyers goalie Steve Mason.
It was the away team’s turn to pile it on next. Jack Hillen, in his first game back from a conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears, sent a pass right to the tape of Troy Brouwer, who was alone in front of Mason. Brouwer made no mistake, teeing up the puck and blasting it behind the Flyers net minder to bring the Caps within one.
Just as fast as the game turned to the Caps advantage, it slipped away for a moment when a bad change for Washington cost them a goal after Hartnell sent the puck to Voracek, catching the Caps off guard. Voracek cut in with the puck, scoring a snapshot on Grubauer to increase the lead to two again.
The Caps were not done yet, scoring less than five minutes later to make it a one-goal game. A faceoff win on the power play created an opportunity for Mike Green, who shot the puck at the point and got a tip-in from Brooks Laich in front of the net for his seventh of the season.
With all of the momentum with them, Washington was poised for a final push when they pulled their goalie with less than two minutes left. Much like the story of their season, Steve Downie scored an empty net goal with less than a minute left to seal the Caps fate, ending the game with a final score of 6-4.
The loss dropped the Caps to fifth place in the Metropolitan and two points from playoff position.
Backstrom spoke about the poor start in his postgame interview.
“I think we played really bad. The first two periods were embarrassing from our side,” he said. “We lost this game the first two periods.”
Despite the harsh words, he is already looking ahead.
“Good thing we have another game tomorrow. Then we can bounce back right away.”
Ovechkin placed some blame on the recent NHL shake-ups.
“I think we never have a good game after the trade deadline. I think maybe guys put some pressure on themselves. Today was not how we’re suppose to start the game,” he said. “But third period we played well and we’ll start from there.”
Washington plays the Bruins tomorrow night and will need to get back on track if they have any hopes of playoffs.