Sunday, March 31, 2013

A ONE-point night -- Game 35: Flyers 5 - Capitals 4 (OT)

Live by the last minute goal, die by the last minute goal.

The Washington Capitals experienced both in the space of 24 hours, coming back from a two-goal deficit on Saturday night to tie the Buffalo Sabres in the last minute of regulation before overtaking them, 4-3, in a Gimmick, then failing to hold a two-goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers, allowing a tying goal with ten second left before dropping a 5-4 overtime decision in Philadelphia.

The game between the Capitals and Flyers was entertaining, but one also could see why both teams are on the outside looking in at the playoffs.  Washington owned the first ten minutes of the game, scoring first on a Nicklas Backstrom goal when he tipped a shot by Jack Hillen out of mid-air and outshooting the Flyers, 7-0, in the first 9:30 of the contest. 

The Flyers then took over, scoring on their second shot of the game at the 10:26 mark, courtesy of Max Talbot, then scoring just over four minutes later on a breakaway by Matt Read.  As dominant as the Caps had been over the first ten minutes, so were the Flyers in the last ten minutes of the period, and it was the Flyers taking a 2-1 lead into the first intermission.

The Caps had the only tally of the second period, Mike Green getting his fifth of the season when he broke out of the penalty box after serving a holding penalty, taking a long lead pass from Brooks Laich, and beating goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to tie the game.

It made for a bizarre, wonderful, tragic, and head-scratching finish in the third period and overtime.  The bizarre came when Steve Oleksy dropped Claude Giroux with what looked to be a clean check in open ice.  Jakub Voracek came to his teammate’s defense, his head in the right place, but unfortunately for him, protected by a helmet and a visor.  Voracek got two for instigating, five for fighting, an extra two for instigating while wearing a visor, and a ten-minute misconduct.  With Oleksy getting only five for fighting, the Caps had a four-minute power play.

To that point the Caps’ power play was pitiful, getting only three shots in four power play opportunities.  But this time the Caps made the Flyers pay, converting both ends of the double minor penalty.  The first came off a turnover by Claude Giroux that ended up on the stick of Marcus Johansson, who wristed a shot past Bryzgalov to give the Caps the lead.  Just 26 seconds later, John Carlson – who appears to have mastered the feed for the one timer – set up Alex Ovechkin for just that, Ovechkin wiring the puck past Bryzgalov’s blocker to give what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-2 Caps lead with 13:12 left in regulation.

However, just as the Caps came back from a two-goal third period deficit on Saturday night against Buffalo, the Flyers would put the Caps on the other side of that ledger.  Giroux made up for his earlier miscue with a one-timer of his own from the left wing circle at the 12:48 mark, leaving the Caps clinging to a 4-3 lead.  The Caps held that lead for 7:02.  Trouble was, they needed to hold it for 7:12.  The Flyers tied the game with ten seconds left in regulation in the cruelest fashion.  Just as Mike Green tied the game on Saturday night by ringing a shot off the post and off the goalie with 39.2 seconds left in regulation, so did Kimmo Timonen fire one off the pipe and in behind goalie Braden Holtby with just those ten ticks left. 

In the overtime, the Flyers made short work of it, Timonen figuring heavily in the game-winner, too, with his feed to an open Ruslan Fedotenko to Holtby’s right.  The pass barely eluded the stick of defenseman John Carlson, but elude the stick it did, and Fedotenko had an open net in which he buried the game-winner.

Other stuff…

-- Needless to say, if the Caps miss the playoffs by one point, this is the standings point they will have nightmares about all summer.  Losing a lead with ten seconds left is not what teams with playoff aspirations do.  And the Timonen goal to tie the game was really more than a minute in the making.  Defensemen Steve Oleksy and Jeff Schultz stepped onto the ice with 1:26 left to play.  You would figure that they might skate a 35-40 second shift and get off for the final shutdown pair.  That would have worked but for a dubious icing call with 49 seconds left, a result of Timonen (who should have been the first star of the game) taking the great circle route to catch up with the puck.  Prohibited from changing out his defensemen, head coach Adam Oates had to stand and watch, depending on a faceoff win and a clear to swap out his defensemen.  Claude Giroux beat Nicklas Backstrom cleanly on the ensuing faceoff, and the Caps could never clear the puck out of the zone.  Thirty-nine seconds after winning that faceoff and pinning the Caps in their own end, Timonen scored with the exhausted Oleksy and Schultz still on the ice.

-- Another game, another power play goal for Alex Ovechkin.  His power play tally in the third period was his 12th power play goal of the season (tops in the league) and his fifth over his last seven games.  He is on a 8-4-12 scoring run over his last eight games.

-- Ovechkin’s six shots on goal and 16 shot attempts give him 16 shots on goal on 33 shot attempts over his last two games.

-- At the other end, Mike Ribeiro did not record a shot attempt in almost 21 minutes of ice time, the only Cap to do so.

-- Mike Green’s goal gave him markers in consecutive games for the first time since he recorded goals in four consecutive games from October 30-November 7, 2010.

-- Nicklas Backstrom’s goal makes it three in six games after recording three in his first 29 games.  Backstrom is 3-6-9 over his last eight games.

-- Marcus Johansson had his fourth multi-point game in his last eight contests.  Over that span he is 3-6-9.  “3-6-9” must be a Swedish thing.

-- The seven power play chances were the most for the Caps since they had eight back on January 25th against New Jersey.  They lost that game in overtime, too, 3-2.

-- The Caps allowed a power play goal tonight, the third time in four games that they have allowed one.  They have not won any of those games in regulation (two Gimmick wins, a regulation loss, and tonight’s overtime loss).

-- Getting eight shots on seven power plays is not especially impressive, and it is made worse by allowing four shorthanded shots on goal.

-- Karl Alzner was minus-3, the first time he finished a game there since he was a minus-3 against the New York Rangers in a 5-4 Gimmick loss on February 11, 2009.

-- Steve Oleksy had five blocked shots.  That vaulted him into fourth on the team in blocked shots with 33 in just 15 games.

-- The Caps finished the month 9-6-1, a 97-point pace per 82 games.

In the end, it was a lost opportunity for the Caps.  Had they won this game they would be ninth place, behind the Rangers for eighth place by virtue of the Rangers holding a game in hand.  As it is, the Caps remain in 11th place, tied with Carolina in points but with the Hurricanes holding two games in hand.  It sets up Tuesday’s game in North Carolina as being just that much more important.  As for the weekend, it was a case of winning a game they should have lost and losing a game they should have won.  Three points out of four on the road would almost always be looked upon as a good thing.  But it is that point that got away that is going to linger, at least until late Tuesday night.

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