By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 13, 2009
PHILADELPHIA, March 12 -- The last time the Washington Capitals visited Wachovia Center, the Philadelphia Flyers handed them their worst loss in more than two years.
Alex Ovechkin and José Theodore made sure the second meeting on Broad Street had a different ending.
Ovechkin netted his 48th goal and set up another, while Theodore stopped 35 shots to lift the Capitals to a 2-1 victory over their bitter rivals.
Since losing a season-worst four games in a row earlier this month, Washington returned home having swept a two-game road trip that began with a 2-1 overtime win in Nashville.
"Getting the win in Nashville was nice to get back in the winning column," said Brooks Laich, who scored the Capitals' other goal. "But you don't want to take a step back after taking a step forward. To get a win here, in a building where we've had a tough time. Obviously, we wanted a little redemption from the last time we played here."
The hero of Tuesday's win, Sergei Fedorov was scratched after warm-ups with an undisclosed illness and enforcer Donald Brashear was forced to sit out against one of the NHL's toughest teams because of a sprained knee.
But their absences were minimized by an inspired team effort led by the reigning MVP and a former one. Ovechkin has points in his past nine games and is two goals away from becoming the first Capital to record three 50-goal seasons. Theodore, meantime, stopped 62 of 64 shots in the back-to-back wins, two of his best performances of the season.
"José made some really big saves," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's in a real zone right now. It's something he's used to doing at the end of the year, and it's something hopefully he can continue to do as time goes on."
As games tighten up down the stretch, more emphasis will fall on special teams, a battle that was won decisively by the Capitals on this night. Their Eastern Conference-leading power play went 1 for 2 and the penalty kill unit, anchored by Tom Poti, Jeff Schultz, David Steckel and Boyd Gordon, extinguished all four of the Flyers' opportunities, including one with about five minutes remaining. The unit has killed off 17 of the past 19 short-handed situations the Capitals have faced.
"We wanted to get back on track," Ovechkin said. "It's getting close to playoffs. Mentally, of course it's important" to win in Philadelphia.
Ovechkin was a major reason why the Capitals started well and finished strong in front of a hostile, capacity crowd that booed him each time he touched the puck.
After withstanding an early push from the Flyers, the Capitals were awarded a power play when Flyers fourth-line forward Arron Asham was sent off for hooking. After setting up in the offensive zone, Nicklas Backstrom threaded a crossing pass to Ovechkin, who quickly flicked the puck to Laich, who had made a strong move toward the crease and steered it past Martin Biron (28 saves).
The teams traded goals in a second period spent mostly in the Washington end. Theodore stopped 18 shots, but he was unable to turn away rugged winger Mike Knuble, who finished off a slick pass from Mike Richards at 11:32 that tied the game at 1.
But Ovechkin had the final say in the session. Alexander Semin picked off a pass by Darroll Powe behind the net, then flipped it in front to Ovechkin, who snapped it past Biron's glove with 2:41 remaining.
Theodore made nine saves in a scoreless third period in which both teams had goals waved off. First, Tomas Fleischmann had one disallowed because Michael Nylander landed on top of Biron after a shove (the referee's ruling was incidental contact with the goalie). The Flyers had one nullified about a minute later because Knuble had been whistled for interference on Schultz before the puck entered the net.
Capitals Notes: Fedorov was replaced by Alexandre Giroux, who was recalled from the minor league Hershey Bears earlier in the day. . . . Fedorov's overtime goal on Tuesday was the 15th of his career, tying him with Mats Sundin, Jaromir Jagr and Patrik Elias for the most in NHL history.