“It was really big. We had a tough road trip. We played well against Ottawa and we had a lead there in the third period – same thing in Toronto. So, we really needed this one. Especially in the position that we are in, we need the points.” — Nicklas Backstrom
The Washington Capitals aren’t used to measuring success in baby steps, but with a disappointing start to the ’12-’13 campaign they’ll take good news where and when they can. Friday night at Verizon Center, the Caps didn’t play a perfect game and for stretches had the play dictated to them by a team struggling as much as they have thus far. But third period goals by Troy Brouwer and Wojtek Wolski and solid goaltending by Braden Holtby delivered a 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers and leapfrogged the Caps over the Flyers and out of the basement of the Eastern Conference.
The Caps got out to a fast start, outshooting the Flyers 10-2 at one point in the first period. Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov though was up to the task in the frame and made a particularly good save on an Ovechkin backhand attempt. An otherwise uneventful period came to an ugly end though.
Late in the period, defenseman John Erskine pinched in at the point in an attempt to keep the puck in the offensive zone and came together with Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds. Erksine got his right elbow up as the two big men collided and landed it with force on Simmonds’ head, sending the forward to the ice, bleeding. There was no penalty called on the play, but it’s the type of hit the league is trying to cut down on and could very well result in a fine and/or suspension for the Caps rugged defenseman.
Incensed with the lack of penalty, the Flyers retaliated. As the teams lined up for the resultant faceoff, Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo and Matt Hendricks dropped the gloves, with Hendricks taking the brunt of the damage. Since the fight came before the puck had dropped, both skaters took game misconduct penalties to go along with their five minutes for fighting.
Both teams got on the board in the second, with the Flyers striking first. A breakdown behind the Braden Holtby (29 saves) drew both Karl Alzner and Mike Green to Holtby’s left behind the cage. When the puck squirted loose to the top of the crease, Bruno Gervais all alone there to bump the puck into the open net.
With 2:18 left in the frame, John Carlson sprung Nick Backstrom on a breakaway courtesy of a lousy line change by the Flyers. Backstrom took his time, switched to his backhand and beat Bryzgalov cleanly for his first tally of the season. The Flyers then took a too-many-men penalty and a cross-check in succession, leading to a 1:12 power play to start the third period.
The Caps weren’t successful on the 5-on-3 unfortunately, but did carry the momentum for much of the period, unlike their road trip through Quebec when they lost third period leads to Ottawa and Toronto. Two minutes after the Caps power play ended, Nick Backstrom won a battle for a loose puck in the offensive zone and found Mike Green at the point. Green sent a cross-ice pass to Troy Brouwer at the bottom of the left wing faceoff circle. Brouwer — with time and space — settled the puck, picked his spot, and beat Bryzgalov over the goalie’s right shoulder to put the Caps ahead 2-1.
The Caps weren’t done scoring though. The Flyers won a neutral zone faceoff, but defenseman Luke Schenn couldn’t find the handle on the puck. While he fumbled with it at his own blue line, Wojtek Wolski poke-checked the puck between Schenn’s legs, corralled it on the other side of the flat-footed defenseman, and send a backhand shot past Bryzgalov, who probably would like to have the shot back.
Nothing has come easy for the Caps this season and almost predictably the Flyers cut the lead back to one a few moments later. Matt Read blasted a shot from the point off two posts and the puck came out right to Brayden Schenn, who pushed the puck into a gaping goal, making the Caps lead a tenuous 3-2.
But unlike previous third period collapses, the Caps held on this time, even withstanding over a minute of 6-on-5 after the Flyers pulled Bryzgalov for the extra skater as time would down.
A 2-5-1 start is nothing to celebrate, but the win over the Flyers Friday night should give the Caps some confidence heading into a Super Bowl Sunday matchup against another hated rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
DSP’s THREE STARS
3. Braden Holtby. Was solid all around. Didn’t overplay any pucks into trouble, controlled his rebounds.
2. John Carlson. He’s had a rough start to his campaign, but sprung Backstrom with breakout pass and blocked five shots.
1. Nick Backstrom. Goal and an assist, plus-2. Active in the play. Finally shades of the real Nick Backstrom.