It's Getting Late for Capitals

The Washington Post's Jason La Canfora breaks down the Capitals' 4-3 double-overtime loss to Philadelphia in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.Audio: Jason La Canfora/The Washington PostEditor: Jonathan Forsythe/washingtonpost.comPhotos: The Washington Post, AP, Getty
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, April 17 -- Without question, the Washington Capitals played their best game of the playoffs. They played with the intensity needed to win this time of year, and when pushed by the Philadelphia Flyers, they finally pushed back.

It still wasn't enough.

Mike Knuble flipped a rebound past goaltender Cristobal Huet 6 minutes 40 seconds into the second overtime Thursday to lift the Flyers to their third straight win, 4-3, and edge the Capitals to the brink of elimination.

After a scramble behind the Capitals' net, Jeff Carter, who had two goals, sent a pass through the crease to Knuble. He was turned back on his first attempt, but his second swipe chipped the puck over Huet's outstretched pad, sending the sellout crowd at Wachovia Center into a frenzy and the best-of-seven series back to Washington with Philadelphia leading three games to one.

The Flyers are 15-2 all-time when leading a best-of-seven series 3-1. They can finish off Alex Ovechkin (two assists) and the Capitals on Saturday afternoon at Verizon Center.

"I thought we deserved a better fate tonight," a sullen Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We didn't finish when he had opportunities. Sometimes when you miss opportunities it comes back to bite you. And that's what happened."

Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Steve Eminger notched their first playoff goals for the Capitals, who outhit the Flyers 38-29 and took a 3-2 lead into the third period.

But they couldn't make it stick.

The Flyers roared back on Daniel Brière's fifth goal of the playoffs at 10:01. The diminutive center sneaked around the net and banged in a cross-crease pass from Mike Richards to tie the score at 3 while the Capitals were short-handed for the second time for having too many men on the ice.

Brière's goal came moments after Huet came up with the save of the season. Flyers winger Scottie Upshall had a wide-open net from the bottom of the circle, but Huet did his best shortstop impression, diving across the crease and getting his glove on the puck.

After looking ordinary in the first three games, Huet was stellar Thursday, stopping 42 shots. But he wasn't able to stop Knuble's second goal of the series.

"We needed that game," Huet said. "But I think we played our first playoff hockey-style game. It's urgent that we win the next game. That's all we can think about now."

The first overtime resembled pond hockey, rather than the tight checking for which the playoffs are known. The best chance belonged to Washington, but Sergei Fedorov, on a two-on-one with Ovechkin, fired a shot off the knob of Martin Biron's stick.

"We had some chances, but the puck bounced over sticks and there was some unlucky plays," Eminger said. "But they got a goal on the power play in the third, and when you get to overtime, anything can happen."

After being thoroughly outplayed the previous two games, the Capitals -- with reconfigured lines and a tweaked power play -- came out with more determination and urgency, something that had been absent thus far in the postseason.

It paid off, even if the game did not get off to an ideal start.

Carter fired a pass from Upshall past Huet only 42 seconds in to put the Flyers ahead 1-0. The play began with a defensive turnover along the wall.

But the Capitals didn't allow the early lapse to crush their confidence. Moments after Carter's goal, Backstrom snapped a cross-crease pass from Ovechkin past Biron at 2:41 to knot the score at 1.

The Capitals ran into penalty problems moments later, taking three in a row, resulting in a total of 44 seconds of five-on-three for the Flyers. But they shut down the Flyers' power play (it finished 1 for 7), then Semin converted on a two-man advantage at 12:59 to put Washington ahead 2-1.

But the Capitals failed to hang on to the lead. After the Flyers pinned them deep in their own zone, Carter again got free. This time the pass was provided by Jaroslav Modry, but the result was the same: Carter fired the puck past Huet with 1:27 remaining in the first to even the score at 2.

In the second period, the Capitals got a goal from an unlikely hero.

Eminger got his first of the playoffs -- he didn't have didn't have a single goal during the regular season -- to put Washington ahead 3-2. The goal was Eminger's first goal since Jan. 16, 2007, in Ottawa, and was a small measure of redemption for a player who was overlooked for most of the season.

But with Jeff Schultz suffering from back spasms, Boudreau turned to Eminger on Thursday -- and the former first-round draft pick took full advantage of the opportunity.

The Capitals' improved overall performance meant little in the silent visitors' locker room, where the realization that the season will depend on Saturday's outcome hit hard.

"Well, you never give up," said Ovechkin, who missed an open net early in the third period when the puck bounced over his stick. "So it's not over. That's all I can say: It's not over."

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