The showdown between the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers Sunday night in the Spectrum still is on, but the Flyers might have a considerable edge in confidence after they came from behind twice tonight to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4-3, in overtime, in front of 16,033 in the Civic Arena.
The loss eliminates the Penguins from the race for the Patrick Division's final playoff spot, but more importantly for the Capitals, it gives Philadelphia a one-point lead heading into Sunday's finale.
After getting only a 4-4 tie with the New York Rangers tonight, the Capitals -- who are 0-3, including two shutouts, at the Spectrum this year -- must win the game to win the division.
Pittsburgh led, 2-0, after the first period, but the Flyers scored twice in the second to tie. The Penguins went ahead, 3-2, in the third. Again, the Flyers responded, this time with Dave Brown's goal at 11:31. Then, 1:49 into the overtime, Ilkka Sinisalo corralled the loose puck after Pittsburgh goalie Gilles Meloche botched an attempted clear and put a backhand past Meloche for the winner.
"Perhaps they [Capitals] were looking forward to it just like we were," Flyers defenseman Brad Marsh said. "We didn't start very well, but you can't help looking forward to a big game, and [Sunday] is definitely a big game. Maybe both teams were guilty of looking ahead to that."
But the Flyers showed gumption in coming back after the Penguins scored on their first two shots on goal, although neither goal was the fault of goalie Bob Froese, who played well, stopping 23 shots.
"They played so well in the first period," Marsh said. "Froese kept us close. It's only a matter of time before this team scores goals, but if Froese doesn't keep it close we could work and work all night and never catch up."
Philadelphia Coach Mike Keenan said tonight's victory and the one-point lead won't give his team a huge advantage in Sunday's game, but "it is a cushion. It's a small cushion, but it's certainly something to have in you hip pocket . . . And to come back from the tough position we were in tonight has to give us some overall confidence."
A fracas 16 seconds into the game left the Penguins with a two-player advantage, and they scored 44 seconds later. Coming down the slot, Ron Duguay scored his 25th goal of the year on a nice centering pass by Mario Lemieux, for a 1-0 lead.
Pittsburgh made it 2-0 when Moe Mantha scored a short-handed goal (only the ninth against the Flyers this season) on a two-on-one break at 6:19.
Tim Kerr found Sinisalo standing alone on the right side of the Penguins net, to cut the lead to 2-1, at 5:13 of the second period. Pittsburgh's Rich Sutter was in nearly the same spot when he tied it at 14:46.
Craig Simpson came around from behind the net after Sutter lost control of the puck, to put it in and give the Penguins a 3-2 lead at 8:41 of the third period. The Penguins' hopes, though, were dashed at the 11:31 mark, when Brown, more widely known for his pugilistic talents, scored on a backhand to tie the game at 3.
Sinisalo's final goal was relatively unspectacular compared to the game as a whole. "I think [Meloche] tried to shoot it out," he said. "But it was just laying there and I shot it as hard as I could."
Kerr said going back to the Spectrum for tonight's game should be an advantage. "The crowd should be pumped," he said. " . . . It's the type of game that when you're driving to the rink, you know it's going to be a high-intensity game. It brings out the best in players."