Good Things Come in Threes
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals proved once again that no deficit is too great for them to overcome. Almost a week after his team completed its stirring comeback from last place to the Southeast Division championship, Ovechkin capped a furious rally against the Philadelphia Flyers last night, scoring his first career playoff goal late in the third period to lift the Capitals to a 5-4 victory at Verizon Center and give them a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Ovechkin was on the forecheck deep in Philadelphia's zone when he lifted Lasse Kukkonen's stick, stole the puck and snapped it over Flyers goaltender Martin Biron with 4 minutes 32 seconds remaining. It was the Capitals' third goal of the period and ignited the boisterous sellout crowd into a earsplitting chant of "MVP!"
"It's amazing how in sports, great moments follow great players," Washington Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Ovechkin's goal. "They just seem to be in the right place at the right time. If you're a star baseball player, it seems like you're coming to bat in the ninth inning with a runner on second base.
"Those are things that happen," he added. "And for his first playoff game, he finished it off okay."
Ovechkin got the winner, but it was high-scoring defenseman Mike Green who stoked the Capitals' first-ever playoff win after trailing by two goals in the third period.
Green, who led all NHL defensemen in the regular season with 18 goals, trimmed the Flyers' lead to 4-3 with a backdoor goal, set up by Sergei Fedorov, only 1 minute 50 seconds into the final frame.
Then, on a power play at 6:26, Green scored again, sending a blistering slap shot over Biron's glove hand to tie the game at 4 and set the stage for another Ovechkin highlight in a season filled with them.
"It feels real good, obviously, but we kind of put ourselves in the hole there with them getting up two goals," Green said. "A lot of people have counted us out and whatnot, but we always believe in here and anything can happen."
Moments before Green's second goal, he drilled Flyers winger Patrick Thoresen in the groin area with a slap shot from the point. Thoresen remained on the ice when Green scored, effectively making it a two-man advantage, and later had to be helped to the dressing room. Afterward, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said Thoresen was en route to Washington Hospital Center and possibly was facing testicular surgery.
"Obviously, I would have liked to see a whistle with the result there," Flyers Coach John Stevens said. "But the explanation we got is that if it looked like he was in danger, if it was in the upper-body area, then they would have blown it down."
The wild comeback was a fitting end for the most anticipated series of the opening round of the NHL playoffs.
"What I learned is we are a team who never give up," said Ovechkin, who looked completely drained as he sat in his locker stall answering questions. "It doesn't matter who scores, we just keep going."
Game 2 is tomorrow at Verizon Center.
Making their first playoff appearance in five seasons, the Capitals got off to a fast start thanks to a goal from an unlikely source. Donald Brashear, known more for his fists than his hands, settled a bouncing puck at the side of the net, flipped it to his forehand and fired it over Biron's shoulder to put the Capitals ahead, 1-0, at 3:16 of the first period. Brashear played 3 1/2 seasons for the Flyers before signing with the Capitals as a free agent in July 2006.
Washington didn't keep its lead very long.
Vaclav Prospal, who scored two goals, evened things at 8:17 with a shot that beat a screened Capitals goalie Cristobal Huet (18 saves) to the short side. Huet didn't see Prospal's shot until it was past him because Scott Hartnell had parked himself in front of the Capitals' net.
The Capitals regained the lead early in the second period thanks to Matt Bradley's second primary assist of the night and David Steckel's first career playoff goal. Bradley beat Flyers defenseman Jaroslav Modry to a dump-in and zipped a backhanded shot off the end boards back to Steckel, who fired the puck over Biron's shoulder at 4:08.
But once again, the Capitals couldn't hold on, and this time it almost cost them the game. The Flyers struck three straight times on goals by Daniel Brière, Prospal and Brière again to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.
But thanks to Ovechkin and Green, it merely was a hiccup the Capitals were able to shrug off afterward.
"It was one of the biggest goals of my career in an important game for us," Ovechkin said of his winner. "But I am not the only one. The whole team helped tonight."
Capitals Notes: Right wing Eric Fehr, left wing Quintin Laing and goaltender Brent Johnson were healthy scratches. Right wing Chris Clark (groin) and defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) also were out for Washington. The Flyers were without defensemen Derian Hatcher (leg) and Randy Jones (flu), and forwards Sami Kapanen and Steve Downie were healthy scratches.