By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Only 20 teams in NHL history have rallied from such a deficit to win a seven-game playoff series. Last night, the Washington Capitals' bid to become No. 21 came up just short.
Philadelphia Flyers right wing Joffrey Lupul flipped a rebound past goaltender Cristobal Huet on the power play at 6 minutes 6 seconds of overtime to beat the Capitals, 3-2, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals had rallied from a series deficit of three games to one and dominated the third period of Game 7 at sold-out Verizon Center, but were unable to squeeze one of their 16 shots in the final 20 minutes past Flyers goalie Martin Biron. It came back to haunt them in overtime.
Defenseman Tom Poti was whistled for tripping R.J. Umberger at 4:15 of the extra session. Then, just as Poti was about to return to the ice, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen fired a shot from the point. Huet made the original save, but the rebound kicked out to Lupul, who had slipped loose of defenseman Milan Jurcina in front. Huet looked the wrong way momentarily after losing track of the rebound.
"I thought it went the other way," Huet said. "They got a good bounce at the right time. It's definitely frustrating. But I think we played hard and we battled. But we couldn't find the back of the net before them."
Coach Bruce Boudreau said of Poti's penalty: "He tripped him. You can't deny he didn't trip them."
Boudreau then added, "I just told them they gave me the best year of my life, and I thanked them."
With a flick of Lupul's wrist, the Capitals' amazing run was over, their comeback from last place in the NHL, their near rally from a 3-1 deficit in this series, was done.
While it might have been Huet's last game in a Capitals jersey -- he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and likely will be coveted by many teams -- the status of the Capitals' other netminder no longer appears to be in doubt.
Longtime Capital Olie Kolzig, who lost his job to Huet last month, removed his nameplate from his locker stall after the game. Kolzig, 38, declined to speak to reporters, but his gesture spoke volumes about his future in Washington, and with the organization that drafted him in 1989.
But as the door may be closing on Kolzig's tenure here, it's just beginning for a young and exciting Capitals team that appears to be built for long-term success.
"It's disappointing, it's devastating," forward Brooks Laich said. "I don't know what to say. I think we're all kind of stunned right now."
Nicklas Backstrom and Ovechkin scored in regulation for the Capitals. The Flyers, who will open their second-round series tomorrow at top-seeded Montreal, got goals from Scottie Upshall and Sami Kapanen and 39 saves from Martin Biron, who was at his best in the third period as the Capitals pushed hard for the go-ahead goal.
Ovechkin and Co. fired 16 shots on Biron in the final frame, but the Flyers goaltender was up to the challenge and stopped all of them, including two off the stick of Ovechkin. Not a single penalty was called in the third period.
"We're disappointed," said Ovechkin, who took a game-high nine shots for the second straight night. "We didn't use our chances. We have lots of chances, but we don't put it in the net. In overtime, it's about luck. Today we don't have luck."
Last night, the Capitals dominated the first period and took an early 1-0 lead on Backstrom's fourth goal in as many games.
Washington was enjoying a five-on-three when Ovechkin fired a shot wide of the net. The puck bounced off the end board and caromed directly out on the other side of Biron, who couldn't get over in time to stop Backstrom's shot, which hit the goalie on the arm before entering the net.
The Capitals continued to control the play. They finished their checks, hemmed the Flyers in their own zone for extended times and tested Biron.
But another penalty for Alexander Semin helped the slow-starting Flyers get back into the game. The hooking infraction was the fourth minor called on Semin in the series, the highest total on the team.
Just as they did Monday in Philadelphia, the Flyers made Semin pay for his ill-advised infraction: Upshall ripped a shot from between the circles in between Huet's pads at 15:38 to tie the game at 1.
Moments later, the Flyers were awarded a four-minute power play when Sergei Fedorov's stick clipped Upshall's cheek, opening a small cut. Then center David Steckel was whistled for hooking Lupul, giving the Flyers a two- man advantage for two minutes.
Huet and the Matt Bradley-led penalty-kill unit had a couple of close calls, but they ultimately snuffed out the Flyers' power play off the score sheet as the game went into the second period even.
The teams also exchanged goals in a wide-open second period that featured end-to-end rushes, highlight saves in both creases and a bit of controversy.
Kapanen fired a puck into an empty net at 9:47 to put Philadelphia ahead 2-1. Huet had been knocked out of the crease and onto his back by teammate Shaone Morrisonn, who had been shoved into the goalie by Flyers grinder Patrick Thoresen. Though Thoresen's shove might qualify as a penalty on some nights, the referees did not make a call and the goal was not reviewed.
"I think it could have been a penalty, definitely," Huet said.
That's when Ovechkin came to the rescue -- again.
Ovechkin reached back to snag a rolling puck, then whipped a wrist shot over Biron from the high slot at 15:29 to tie the game at 2. Biron's non-reaction to the shot suggested he never saw it, despite having no one between him and the all-star left wing.
"It's going to take a while for this to sink in," Bradley said. "What we did this season was good, I guess, but we still could have gone a lot further in this."