Bullied on Broad Street

The Washington Post's Jason La Canfora breaks down the Capitals' 6-3 loss to Philadelphia in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Audio: Jason La Canfora/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.comPhotos courtesy of: The Washington Post, AP, Getty
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, April 15 -- Daniel Brière is the Philadelphia Flyers' smallest player according to their roster, checking in at a generously listed 5 feet 10, 179 pounds. But he's quickly becoming the Washington Capitals' biggest problem.

Brière riled up Capitals goaltender Cristobal Huet late in the second period, then scored his second goal of Game 3 moments later to help the Flyers win, 6-3, and take a two-games-to-one lead in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.

"We shouldn't be worried about the physical play of Danny Brière," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's a pretty good hockey player, but we should be able to battle through that. I think we're a bigger team. But we lost our cool many times in retaliation."

Brière's performance -- he was named the game's first star -- gives him four goals and six points in the series, which resumes at Wachovia Center on Thursday night.

"I'm happy and I'm scoring goals," said Brière, who was the Flyers' prized offseason free agent signing. "But I would trade all the goals for a win anytime in the playoffs. That's what it is all about: to hear those fans scream and to be energetic the way they were tonight."

Brière and his teammates gave the crowd of 19,822 plenty to cheer as Philadelphia ended a four-game home losing streak against Washington.

A more determined and physical Flyers team roughed up the Capitals, again. They held Alex Ovechkin and his linemates in check, again. And, again, they made Huet's job more difficult by screening him, bumping him and, on a number of occasions, running over him. They also outshot the Capitals by a considerable margin for the second consecutive game, this time 33-19.

It can be argued the Flyers have outplayed the Capitals in all but one period in this series -- the third period of Washington's comeback victory in Friday's Game 1. If the Capitals don't find a way to turn things around, it's becoming increasing clear their first trip to the postseason in five years could be short.

"Hockey is a simple game," Boudreau said. "You have to shoot the puck, drive to the net and get rebounds. That's how you generate chances. That's how it's been since the beginning of time."

The Flyers have gotten that message. The Capitals, it seems, have not.

Scott Hartnell, Sami Kapanen, Mike Richards and Mike Knuble also scored goals for Philadelphia, while Washington received goals from Brooks Laich, Eric Fehr and Mike Green.

Laich scored with 4 minutes 34 seconds remaining to pull the Capitals within striking distance at 4-3, but the Flyers' Mike Richards slipped a penalty shot between Huet's pads less than two minutes later to restore the Flyers' two-goal edge, and Knuble's empty-net tally clinched it.

"We're trying to throw everything at them and they kept the pressure on," Laich said. "They did a good job containing us and you could see when we get a little more desperate we start to make things happen. We need that desperation before the third period."

It didn't help that the Capitals played the majority of the game without defenseman Jeff Schultz, who left the game in the first period after aggravating the injury he suffered in the regular season finale. With Schultz sidelined, center Sergei Fedorov shifted to the blueline.

The Flyers, meantime, also suffered a significant injury. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen, the man most responsible for shutting down Ovechkin, left the game late in the second period because of an upper-body injury.

The Capitals' problems began late in the first period when they yielded three goals in fewer than four minutes. After two long passes out of the Philadelphia end, Brière snagged the puck, skated around Capitals defenseman John Erskine and blasted a slap shot past Huet's blocker at 16:10.

Fehr brought the Capitals right back 71 seconds later when he banged in a pass from Donald Brashear, whose deft feed from behind the net was his second point of the series. But Hartnell one-timed a cross-ice pass from Vaclav Prospal past Huet, who was screened by Brière. One shift later, Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina flubbed a pass from behind the net, leading directly to Kapanen's goal, which put the Flyers ahead 3-1.

The teams exchanged goals in the second period. But the turning point of the game likely occurred late, when Brière traded shoves with Huet, each drawing a roughing penalty. Then with 9.8 seconds remaining in the period, Brière snapped a shot from the goal line into the net to send the Flyers into the third leading 4-2.

"It's very frustrating for me," said Huet, who no longer looks like the unflappable goalie who led the charge to the postseason. "I felt very good. But the end result, it looks very bad."

As for his battle with Brière, he shrugged it off, shaking his head when asked whether the small center was under his skin.

Brière's performance hasn't surprised Green.

"Seeing him play before, it doesn't surprise me that he's playing that well," said Green, who got into a third-period fight with Scottie Upshall. "They talk about shutting down their top line. We need to shut down theirs. We need to hit them and finish our checks on those guys."

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