Capitals 2, Flyers 1
With Jaromir Jagr, the Washington Capitals' top scorer and the NHL's highest-paid player, out of the lineup, the onus to play sound defensive hockey fell to all of his teammates, but the responsibility to fill his offensive void trickled to two individuals in particular.
If the Capitals were going to generate any scoring last night against Philadelphia, the league's second-best defensive club, Peter Bondra and Robert Lang were going to have to produce. They did precisely that, as Bondra assisted on Lang's game-tying goal and Lang fed Bondra for the overtime game-winner in Washington's 2-1 victory at MCI Center, extending the team's point streak to eight games and its Southeast Division lead to three points.
"Definitely, we know with [Jagr] out we know somebody else has to get it done," Lang said. "And collectively we played really well, we played good defense and the power play got it done at the end. Sometimes when the big guy is out of the lineup it makes the whole team tighten up and play a little more together. We know we're not going to score five or six goals, but we can win 2-1, too."
The Capitals (33-25-8-5) pulled eight games over .500 for the first time this season and won for just the fourth time this season when trailing after two periods (4-21-2-1), earning points in two straight games under those circumstances. Bondra sent Saturday's game to overtime and settled this game, coming alive after a long slump.
This game-winning goal came on a power play -- which has four goals in two games after netting three over the previous 15 -- 21 seconds into overtime. Lang flubbed his pass from the boards as Bondra crept to the slot -- "It bounced on me and had just enough juice to get to Peter," Lang said -- and Bondra pummeled the puck through a screen set by Dainius Zubrus and into the net.
"Zuby made that happen," Bondra said of his 26th goal. "The shot pretty much went through two pairs of legs and it's pretty hard to stop it if you don't see it."
Washington took command of the game in the third period after Coach Bruce Cassidy delivered a terse address at that intermission, challenging his team to rise against a premier opponent, and the Capitals went on to outshoot the Flyers 16-3 in the final period. The win was just Washington's third this season against a team currently ahead of it in the standings (3-15-1-2) and its first against such teams since Dec. 27.
"As a staff we were just tired of being close but not quite good enough against good hockey teams," Cassidy said of his between-period speech. "And we were maybe kind of kidding ourselves a bit in that regard and being satisfied. And we came out and played pretty hard. Good for them. I'm proud of them."
They tied the game late in the period, taking advantage of former teammate Joe Sacco's high-sticking penalty. Bondra blasted a shot from the point and Lang slammed the long rebound past goalie Robert Esche from the left faceoff circle for his 19th goal. Sacco should have been given at least a four-minute penalty for high-sticking Zubrus on his next shift, but the officials missed the call and the Capitals persevered anyway.
Washington's depleted lineup demanded an intense attention to defensive detail. The Capitals were without two-thirds of their first line with Jagr (wrist) and Kip Miller (hand) out with injuries, and key defenseman Brendan Witt left the game in the second period with what the team called an "upper-body injury" that General Manager George McPhee said is not serious.
The defensive effort was truly collective, especially in Witt's absence. The Flyers took only six shots on goal in the first period and had 15 through two periods. The Capitals killed three penalties in the first period and the only shot to beat goalie Olaf Kolzig -- off the stick of Claude Lapointe -- was aided by Philadelphia's Todd Fedoruk, who upended Kolzig, although a nearly identical incident negated a Flyers' goal when Michael Handzus ran into Kolzig.
"It's frustrating and fortunately it didn't cost us," said Kolzig, who believes the goal should not have counted. "But it's getting out of hand. The [crease] is supposed to be your domain, and you've pretty much got to play on the goal line now."