Just as they did when the clubs met on the Verizon Center ice sheet on January 27th, the Caps spotted the Flyers the first goal. Shayne Gostisbehere faked a shot from the right point and sent the puck across to Michael Del Zotto at the opposite point. Del Zotto fired a shot that hit defenseman Matt Niskanen’s skate on the way through, bending the shot just enough to elude goalie Braden Holtby and give the Flyers a 1-0 lead with just 1:39 left in the first period.
That lead stood up well into the second period, but did not hold up to the end of the middle frame. With less than five minutes to go in the second period the Caps tied the contest. After a faceoff in the Flyer end, T.J. Oshie hounded Radko Gudas into sending the puck around the boards in a clearing attempt. The puck made it only to Karl Alzner at the left point, who gathered up the puck and whipped it toward the Flyer net. On the way through, Alex Ovechkin managed to get the blade of his stick on the puck and redirect it past goalie Steve Mason to make it 1-1 at the 15:56 mark.
Barely a minute later, the Caps had the lead. Andre Burakovsky walked the puck up the wall in the Flyers’ zone and fed Dmitry Orlov in the middle of the ice. Orlov stepped around Brayden Schenn, whose stick broke, and Nick Cousins tried to annoy Orlov from behind. Orlov would have none of it, circling in and firing a shot that beat Mason to the stick side to give the Caps a 2-1 lead at 17:05 of the period.
It took the Flyers less than a minute of the third period to tie the game, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare winning a faceoff back to Nick Schultz at the left point. Schultz fired the puck through a maze of bodies and beat Holtby on the glove side 51 seconds into the period.
The game-winner came on what Caps fans might call end-to-end magic by Matt Niskanen, what Flyers fans might describe as $#@%ed up defense. Niskanen collected a loose puck and started up ice. He made it all the way to the Flyers’ blue line where he darted between Jakub Voraceka and Wayne Simmonds. Continuing forward, he worked his way between Gostisbehere and Del Zotto and found himself on the doorstep. He flipped the puck under Mason’s left arm, and the Caps had a 3-2 lead at the 5:24 mark.
That left things in the capable hands of Braden Holtby, who slammed the door over the last 14 minutes, and the Caps had a 3-2 win.
-- The Caps hit the 80-point mark in their 51st game. Last season they did not get there until Game 65. In fact, the earliest the Caps reached the 80-point mark before this season was in 2009-2010, when they hit the 80-point mark in Game 55 on their way to a 121-point season and the Presidents Trophy for the league’s best record.
-- Andre Burakovsky’s assist gave him points in seven straight games (6-3-9), although his goal-scoring streak ended at five games.
-- Alex Ovechkin scored his 30th goal, making him the third player in NHL history to record 30 or more goal in each of his first 11 seasons. Wayne Gretzky and Mike Gartner are the others. Ovechkin is the only one to do it with one franchise.
-- Dmitry Orlov’s goal gave him 19 points on the season, tying his career high set in his rookie season of 2011-2012.
-- Matt Niskanen’s goal was his first game-winning goal as a Capital. He also led the team with seven shots on goal, a season high for him, set just five days after his previous season high, five shots on goal against the Florida Panthers.
-- Karl Alzner had his first two-assist game of the season. It was his first two-assist game since he had a pair in a 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on March 16, 2014.
-- Odd fact…three centers did not have a shot attempt: Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Richards, and Michael Latta.
-- This was the third straight game in which Braden Holtby allowed two goals. His save percentage over those three games (.929) is his season save percentage (.929).
-- The Caps went 0-for-2 on the power play, making it 0-for-17 over their last five games.
-- Washington was a perfect 5-for-5 on the penalty kill, the first time this season they held an opponent without a power play goal when facing five or more shorthanded situations.
In the end…
The Capitals have opened up a 17-point lead on the rest of the Metropolitan Division with every other team having played as many or more games than the Caps. They are now 7-0-2 in their last nine division games. Now they face a different kind of test. They go on the road to face three Central Division teams – the Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, and Dallas Stars – teams that are a combined 47-24-6 on home ice. This might be the Caps’ biggest test of the season coming up.