By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008
Bruce Boudreau first sensed his Washington Capitals might be in for a tough afternoon during warm-ups as he watched Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Martin Biron turn aside shot after shot.
Boudreau's fears were realized a short time later.
Biron was unbeatable, particularly early, and the rest of the Flyers were relentless for 60 minutes at Verizon Center, where they stifled Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals, 2-0, to knot this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece.
"You could tell [Biron] was going to be good," Boudreau said. "But there was a sense of urgency about their team that they just thought they should have won the last game, and they played better than us."
After a below-average Game 1 performance, Biron made 24 stops to deal the Capitals their first loss in nine games and ninth playoff shutout loss in the team's history.
But Biron, who has shutouts in three of his last four starts, wasn't the Capitals' only problem.
The power play went 0 for 6, mustering just eight shots. Passes missed their intended targets. They yielded 41 shots (32 in the final 40 minutes) and were sloppy in other phases of the game: A bad line change contributed to the Flyers' first goal and a turnover led to the second.
Ovechkin, meantime, was held in check, limited to five shots on goal in 26 minutes 45 seconds, two days after lifting the Capitals to a dramatic 5-4 Game 1 victory.
"I didn't like how much he played," Boudreau said of Ovechkin's game-high amount of ice time among forwards. "He gets it in his head 'I can do it,' and most nights he can. [But] he looked a little tired, [and] he looked a little frustrated as well because he wasn't getting the puck and they were all on him."
Game 3 is tomorrow at Wachovia Center, where the Capitals were 2-0 during the regular season.
"Give them credit," Boudreau said. "They made us look bad in a lot of ways. They took advantage of their chances in the first period and, once they got the lead, felt they'll be damned if they're going to let the lead slip away like it did in Game 1."
The Capitals controlled the opening minutes, but the Flyers grabbed a 1-0 lead thanks to a spectacular play by Braydon Coburn and R.J. Umberger and a poor line change.
Coburn, a skilled two-way defenseman, sent a pass from just inside his blue line onto the stick of the streaking Umberger, who split defenseman Jeff Schultz and John Erskine. Umberger chipped the puck past Cristobal Huet at 5:53 to put the Flyers ahead 1-0.
It was Philadelphia's second shot of the game and took the lively home crowd out of the game.
The Flyers seemed emboldened by grabbing an early lead. Rugged winger Scott Hartnell was shoved near the crease but didn't appear to do all he could to avoid landing on top of Huet. It also appeared as Hartnell crashed down on the goalie, he attempted to pry off his mask. Huet reacted angrily, and Hartnell was assessed a penalty for goaltender interference.
But the Capitals failed to capitalize on the ensuing power play, one of four they wasted in the opening 20 minutes.
"We had plays designed on how to break down their [penalty kill], and we didn't do it today," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said. "That's a mental thing. That's just guys going on their own page. You look at the games around the league right now, goals are scored around the net, from getting pucks to the net and second and third opportunities. It's not from making sauce passes."
A defensive breakdown helped the Flyers take a 2-0 lead. Defenseman Mike Green, one of the heroes in Game 1 after scoring two third period goals, coughed up the puck at the Capitals' blue line. Green was a focal point of the Flyers, who made a concerted effort to make it more difficult for him to freewheel through the neutral zone.
"You can't just run at him," Flyers Coach John Stevens said of Green. "You can't just try to hit him. You can't chase him behind the net. You just have to angle and make sure he doesn't get up ice. You have to force the puck out of his hands."
Flyers winger Mike Knuble snagged the loose puck and led a two-on-one break into the offensive zone with Jeff Carter. Huet stopped Knuble's shot, but Carter was there to bang in the rebound at 15:17 to put the Flyers ahead 2-0.
Philadelphia controlled the second period from start to finish, outshooting the Capitals 14-6 and holding them without a shot over the final 10 minutes. And it became obvious early in the third there would be no memorable comeback this time. The Flyers kept the play in the Washington end, outshooting the Capitals 18-8.
Asked how he expected his team to respond in the next game, Boudreau said: "Like they've done all year -- come out and be great."