For Capitals, Flyers Are New Enemy No. 1
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The Washington Capitals do not care for a number of opposing teams -- namely Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New York Rangers and Carolina. But for the current core of Capitals, there really isn't much debating who is the most hated: It's the Flyers, the team from 130 miles up Interstate 95, the one that squashed their storybook run last April with a power-play goal in overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals and then, two weeks ago, poured salt on Washington's wounds by handing the club its worst loss since 2006.
"There are a lot of teams we don't like, and the Flyers are one of them," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "It was a pretty interesting playoffs, and they beat us pretty good last month. There's not a lot of like with each other."
Boudreau's team is one of the NHL's hottest, having won six straight and 11 of its past 12 games to vault into second place in the Eastern Conference. Its only loss in that span, interestingly, was a humbling 7-1 setback on Dec. 20 to the Flyers, who are tied for fourth in the East, just five points behind the Capitals.
Fans might argue that Pittsburgh remains Washington's biggest rival because of all the heartbreak the Penguins have inflicted on the Capitals over the years. Pittsburgh has ousted Washington six times in seven postseason meetings, and more recently, there has been the rivalry between the NHL's past two MVPs, Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby.
The Capitals, however, don't see it that way. Since the departure of Olie Kolzig via free agency last summer, there is no longer a locker room connection to all of the playoff letdowns against the Penguins, the most recent of which came in 2001 -- before many of the current players were drafted.
And the Ovechkin-Crosby angle? That's little more than media hype to the players themselves.
But mention the Flyers around the Capitals' locker room these days, and there's no longer any doubt that Philadelphia has surpassed Crosby's Penguins as enemy No. 1, even if only by a slight margin.
"We played them 11 times last year," defenseman Shaone Morrisonn said. "It just seems the games against Philly are a little rougher. Pittsburgh plays more of a skilled game. Philly has skill, too; they are a great team. But Philly plays physical. It's a different game than against Pittsburgh. Those two teams have both been big rivals, but right now I think Philly is the biggest."
It's not just wins, losses, bumps and bruises, Morrisonn said. It's everything about the Flyers, including their notorious fans, who infiltrate the stands at Verizon Center and wreak havoc outside the arena in Philadelphia. The defenseman recalled departing Wachovia Center after losing Game 4 of last season's playoff series to go down three games to one. What should have been a 15-minute ride to the train station took more than an hour.
"People weren't moving" for the police escort, Morrisonn said. "They were mooning us, throwing stuff at us, beer bottles, whatever they had in their hands. It's to be expected from Philly fans. Didn't they boo Santa Claus?"
Earlier in the series, when a busload of Capitals employees arrived in Philadelphia, a group of unruly fans surrounded the bus and rocked it back and forth while screaming obscenities. When the staffers returned, the bus was covered in mustard, ketchup and shaving cream.
The bus episodes and the sudden and heartbreaking end to last season -- the Capitals rallied to force a Game 7, only to leave empty-handed after Joffrey Lupul's power-play goal -- has stuck with many of players, the majority of whom were in the playoffs for the first time.