Caps Find No Redemption vs. Flyers in 7-1 Loss

Brent Johnson was pulled after allowing three goals on 13 shots. "I don't disagree with the coach at all," he said.
Brent Johnson was pulled after allowing three goals on 13 shots. "I don't disagree with the coach at all," he said. (By Tom Mihalek -- Associated Press)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 21, 2008

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 20 -- The Washington Capitals came to Wachovia Center seeking payback. They left frustrated, battered and humbled.

Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell had a hat trick, Jeff Carter tallied twice and goaltender Antero Niittymaki made 47 saves to pace the Flyers to an unexpectedly easy 7-1 victory in the rivals' first meeting since last season's thrilling first-round playoff series.

The defeat -- the Capitals' worst in more than two years -- snapped a season-best five-game winning streak and, strangely enough, came after the team set a franchise road record for shots on goal with 25 in the first period. The Flyers, meantime, remained unbeaten in their past 11 games at home (9-0-2).

"The story of this game was the first period," said forward Brooks Laich, who notched the Capitals' only goal. "We took 25 shots and don't get a goal. We have to bear down. If we get one or two goals there, it's a different hockey game. But we missed our opportunities, and they capitalized on theirs."

Aided by three power plays, the Capitals outshot the Flyers by 19 in the opening 20 minutes. But they trailed the Flyers 1-0 at the first intermission on a goal Joffrey Lupul, who, eight months after ending the Capitals' season in overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, got things rolling in the rematch.

Lupul made a strong move on Alexandre Giroux before beating Brent Johnson with an ordinary-looking wrist shot only 4 minutes 29 seconds into the game. Johnson later took responsibility for the goal, saying, "It's a goal I should have had."

Things never really improved for the Capitals, who did not have Alexander Semin because of a back injury, then lost defenseman Tom Poti early in the first period to a groin muscle injury, leaving them short-handed in a physical and fast-paced game.

The first 15 minutes of the second period followed a similar script: more outstanding goaltending by Niittymaki and more missed opportunities for the Capitals. Twice, Niittymaki sent Alex Ovechkin (game-high 12 shots) away muttering to himself.

The turning point arrived a little while later. With 4:49 remaining in the second period, Carter fired a wrist shot through Milan Jurcina's skates to stretch the Flyers' lead to 2-0. Then, only 54 seconds later, the boisterous crowd of 19,897 was back on its feet, celebrating Carter's second goal, this one coming short-handed after a turnover by Mike Green.

"We knew they were good on the penalty kill and they go for goals," said Green, who was a team-worst minus-4 in a game-high 29:24 of ice time. "We have to be smarter than that. I should have backed up in that situation."

Coach Bruce Boudreau added: "The first goal didn't bother us, but the second goal is what deflated us. By the time we had come back again, it was 3-0."

Johnson, who had won his previous five starts, was pulled by Boudreau after yielding three goals on 13 shots in 40 minutes. José Theodore came in off the bench after missing the previous four games with a hip flexor injury and surrendered four goals on 15 shots.

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