By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 20, 2008
A few words scrawled in red marker on the dry-erase board in the locker room perfectly described the state of the Washington Capitals late yesterday.
"Sun. 11 a.m. Ballston," it read. Translation: There's at least one more practice -- and game -- remaining in their season.
Alexander Semin scored the Capitals' second power-play goal of the afternoon late in the third period, then goaltender Cristobal Huet made six of his 30 saves in the waning moments to help Washington hang on for a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in a must-win Game 5 before a sellout crowd at Verizon Center.
The victory cut the Flyers' lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal series to three games to two, with Game 6 tomorrow in Philadelphia.
Semin also set up a goal by Nicklas Backstrom, while Sergei Fedorov had a goal and an assist to earn the first star of the game as Washington bounced back from Thursday's heartbreak in Philadelphia, where it played well but lost in double overtime. The Flyers, meanwhile, received goals from Vaclav Prospal and Derian Hatcher and a pair of assists from Daniel Brière but, in the end, were unable to overcome a poor start.
"Right now, we don't want to stop," Huet said. "But we don't feel any satisfaction."
Saying Washington managed to "hang on" probably is an understatement. It was more like clinging.
The Capitals controlled the first half of the game, holding the Flyers without a shot for the final 15 minutes of the first period and opening a 2-0 lead on the goals by Backstrom and Fedorov.
The third period, though, was a completely different story. Philadelphia outshot the Capitals 21-6 in the final 20 minutes (and 32-26 in the game), and several times appeared on the verge of tying the score at 2.
But three consecutive power plays helped the Capitals steady themselves. On the third man advantage, Semin, who has two goals and two assists in the past two games combined, spun in the circle, then whipped one of his trademark wrist shots from the high slot through traffic and past Flyers goaltender Martin Biron (23 saves) to put the Capitals ahead 3-1 with 5 minutes 27 seconds remaining.
The shot was pretty, but more notable was the traffic the Capitals created in front of Biron, who didn't see Semin's shot because he was screened by Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Brooks Laich.
"We were just talking about how many guys were in front, and there's no way Biron could have seen it," Coach Bruce Boudreau said.
Added Laich: "It whizzed right through my legs. We were trying to get traffic to the front of the net. It totally disrupts the goalie. They don't like it. It creates havoc, and tonight it helped us win."
But the game wasn't over by a long shot.
Because on the Flyers' next shift, they pinned the Capitals deep in their end, and Hatcher fired a shot between Huet's pads from between the circles to make it 3-2 with 4:43 remaining. Huet had to be sharp to preserve the one-goal lead as Philadelphia took six of the game's next seven shots, including one from Brière with three seconds left.
"Your tendency is to sit back and protect the inside, but that allowed them to get pucks in and get the forecheck going," forward Matt Cooke said. "That's the one message to take from tonight: You have to keep your foot on the gas with these guys."
The game began with Semin taking a roughing penalty 36 seconds in after a scuffle broke out behind the Washington net. The Capitals killed off the penalty, though the momentum clearly belonged to the Flyers.
But they couldn't keep it for long.
Huet thwarted Brière on a semi-breakaway at around five minutes. The attempt was the Flyers' fourth and final shot of the period, the rest of which belonged to the Capitals.
They outshot the Flyers 12-4, and they out-hit them 22-9. And thanks to Backstrom, they took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
The Capitals had a five-on-three power play, and Semin threaded a pass through Philadelphia defenseman Jason Smith's skates and on to the stick of Backstrom, who had nothing between him and the net. The goal was Backstrom's second in two games after registering only a secondary assist in the first three contests of the series.
Asked if it was possible for the Capitals to play better than they did in the first period, Boudreau said: "If I have to draw up periods on how to play, then that's it. We all know that when you dominate a team in a period and you don't have a substantial lead, it usually comes back to bite you."
The second period began much the first did, with the Capitals dictating the play.
Fedorov made it 2-0 at 1:25 when he cut hard to the slot, snagged a slick pass from linemate Viktor Kozlov, then backhanded the puck back past Biron. Prospal made it 2-1 with a five-on-three power-play goal at 12:35 of the second period.
Asked about the words on the eraser board, forward Matt Bradley turned around and said: "I'm hoping to see that until June. Because once you're out of the playoffs, you have the whole summer to regret all things you didn't do to stay in it."