Caps Get a Measure of Revenge

Theodore Makes Kozlov's Shootout Goal Stand Up Against Recent Nemesis: Capitals 2, Flyers 1

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2009; Page E01

It wasn't as dramatic a finish as the last time these foes faced each other in this building. But it came close.

Viktor Kozlov scored the shootout's only goal, and goaltender José Theodore backed up a solid performance in regulation and overtime by turning away all three Philadelphia Flyers shots he faced in the tiebreaker to clinch a 2-1 victory for the Washington Capitals, who extended their dominance at home and, just as important, earned a measure of payback against their most hated rival in front of another sellout crowd.

"Enough has been said about the war between Washington and Philly," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "We thought this was a business day. We wanted to be machines, go out there and do what we are capable of doing. It was 50-50 right to the end, and that's what happens when two good teams play a good game."

It was only fitting, then, that the most machine-like Capital, Kozlov, provided the heroics on this night. One of the top shootout specialists in the game, the Russian beat Flyers goaltender Martin Biron, putting a backhander underneath the crossbar to clinch the Capitals' seventh straight win, and 12th in the past 13 games. Kozlov, meantime, improved to 17 of 35 in shootouts.

At the other end, Theodore stopped Simon Gagne, Mike Richards and, finally, Jeff Carter to set off a wild celebration at Verizon Center, where the Capitals improved to 18-1-1.

"I have been in the business 33 years," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And I have never been on a team that has gone 20 games and lost only once [in regulation] on home ice."

The win meant more than just two points for the Capitals, who avenged last month's 7-1 throttling in Philadelphia and took a step toward erasing the bitter memory of their heartbreaking loss to the Flyers in overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals here last April.

"They beat us 7-1," said Alex Ovechkin, who rang his shootout attempt off the post to fall to 9 of 34 all-time. "It doesn't matter how we win, in a shootout or overtime, we just want to win."

Theodore, who made 33 saves to win his fifth consecutive start and improved to 11-3 all-time in the tiebreaker, added: "I always like our chances in the shootouts. With the skill we have and my record, I feel comfortable in shootouts."

With the win, the Capitals also inched within five points of the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.

Washington and Philadelphia -- the players, the coaches and their fans -- don't care for each other at all, and that dislike was obvious from the pregame comments and a booming round of boos the Flyers received when they stepped onto the ice before the opening faceoff.

That emotion spilled over onto the ice in a fast and furious first period, which ended with the Flyers holding a slight advantage in shots on goal (12 to 10). But the Capitals got the two things they needed most: good goaltending and an early lead.

Nicklas Backstrom scored on the power play only 2 minutes 10 seconds into the game to put the Capitals ahead 1-0. The second-year center raced to the net, stopped a crafty backhanded pass from Semin with his hip, then, in a single fluid motion, forehanded it past Biron, who also finished with 33 saves.

Theodore made sure they took that edge into the first intermission with a number of impressive stops, including three off the stick of Carter, who entered last night tied with Ovechkin for the league lead in goals (27).

As the teams went more conservative in the second period, Theodore was again outstanding and the Capitals failed to finish off several prime chances at the other end. Early in the period, linemates David Steckel, Eric Fehr and Chris Clark each missed opportunities to score on the same sequence. Later, Michael Nylander fired toward a vacated empty net, but a sliding Ossi Vaananen foiled his attempt.

Theodore, though, was virtually helpless to stop Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn 23 seconds into the third period. Coburn ripped a slap shot through a screen on the power play to pull Philadelphia even at 1. Coburn's goal came five seconds after Nylander took a seat in the penalty box for hooking Carter in the offensive zone.

Both goalies were outstanding the rest of the way, with Theodore making six saves in overtime and then frustrating the Flyers in the shootout.

"He looks way more sure of himself," Boudreau said. "The anticipation was great, the rebound control was really good. All of the things he's noted for when he's on top of his game were there."

© 2009 The Washington Post Company