Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said the Capitals had squandered a two-goal advantage 14 times this season. They have done so 11 times.
With a two-goal lead Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Washington Capitals were a little more than 10 minutes from a win that would have propelled them into playoff position for the first time since Jan. 18. But having that goal within reach only made the defeat that ultimately unfolded sting even more.
Defenseman Dmitry Orlov went searching to make a retaliatory hit on Brayden Schenn, and upon impact he received a five-minute major boarding penalty that swung the momentum of the game, paving the way for the Flyers’ comeback and 5-4 overtime win at Verizon Center. The loss snapped the Capitals’ four-game winning streak and kept them on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“We had a two-goal lead. You get hit behind the net hard, that’s their guy’s job, and I understand that you want payback, but you’ve got to be disciplined,” Coach Adam Oates said. “You give them life. You give their good players life. . . . It’s an undisciplined play. I know he’s a young guy. We count on him a lot, but we need him to be under control. We need everybody to be under control there.”
It was the type of careless play Oates tries to guard his team against whenever a matchup against Philadelphia approaches. For them to be successful, he repeats, the Capitals can’t fall into the trap of retribution-hunting and penalty-ravaged games that allows their orange-trimmed foes to thrive.
“We can’t get dragged into that too much. We have to play our game, and if they want to run around, let them,” forward Marcus Johansson said, acknowledging that managing tempers can be challenging. “But it’s tough. Sometimes you get frustrated and it’s tough, but it was tough to get that five-minute penalty.”
Schenn had finished a hard, clean check on Orlov behind the Capitals’ net, and instead of continuing on with the play as usual, the 22-year-old blue-liner Washington has come to rely on in a top-four role this year let his emotions drive his actions.
Orlov, who wasn’t made available to reporters after the game, went out of his way to drill Schenn into the corner boards with a high hit that gift-wrapped the Flyers the opportunity to get back in the game.
“We know this team. It’s not new. The guys got to do the job, suck it up when it’s your turn,” Oates said. “They hit hard, too. They’re big boys, too, yeah. They’ve got to push [because] they’re losing. We’ve got to be able to handle that. We have to.”
While Schenn wasn’t injured and came back to play on the ensuing power play, Orlov faces a disciplinary hearing by phone Monday afternoon with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. The worst part of the penalty, though, was that up until that point Orlov had played one of the best games in his young career, recording two goals for his first multigoal game.
Before Orlov’s hit, Washington had done a solid job of not getting tangled up in the Flyers’ antics. Goals by Orlov and Johansson gave the home team a 2-1 lead through the first period after what had been a dominant showing for Washington as it outshot its foe 17-6.
Even when a turnover by Alex Ovechkin deep in his own zone allowed Philadelphia to pull even at 2 on a shorthanded goal by Adam Hall 12:50 into the second period, the Capitals were undeterred. Jay Beagle scored 54 seconds later to reclaim the lead, and before the period ended Orlov ripped a slap shot through traffic to make it 4-2.
While two-goal leads aren’t a comfort for the Capitals, who have now squandered that advantage 11 times this year, the stakes of this Metropolitan Division matchup were significant.
If there was ever a time to clamp down and play a smart game, it was in the third period, but Orlov made the costly mistake of worrying more about sending a message than protecting the lead.
The Flyers buzzed and attempted seven shots on net before Jakub Voracek fired a long-range snap shot from the slot that found its way through traffic and past Braden Holtby (31 saves) to make it 4-3 with 8:02 remaining. Then with 65 seconds left, Claude Giroux deflected another shot from Voracek in front to tie the game.
In overtime, Vincent Lecavalier’s shot appeared to redirect off the shin pad of defenseman Karl Alzner and past Holtby for the game-winner.
“We had them where we wanted them,” forward Eric Fehr said. “We were getting pucks in. We were forechecking them. We were playing well defensively. That penalty just puts us on our heels, gives them energy, gives them life, gives them the idea that they can win the game, and that changed things.”
Capitals notes: Defenseman Jack Hillen, who continues to rehab from a fractured tibial plateau, is slated to play a game with Hershey of the American Hockey League on Sunday evening. . . . Casey Wellman, who had been on emergency recall, was reassigned to Hershey.