PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Flyers' struggles in the shootout during the seven seasons of the tiebreaker's existence have been well-documented.
Recently, however, it appears the Flyers have turned the corner.
Wayne Simmonds scored in the fourth round of the shootout and Ilya Bryzgalov denied Troy Brouwer to give the Flyers a 2-1 victory against the Washington Capitals on Thursday at Wells Fargo Center.
The win gives the Flyers 94 points, keeping them four behind fourth-place Pittsburgh and five behind the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
Eighth-place Washington earned a single point and now has 81, putting the Caps one ahead of Buffalo in the battle for the last playoff berth in the conference. The Capitals host 10th-place Winnipeg, which trails them by five points, on Friday after finishing with five points on a five-game trip.
Matt Read scored for the Flyers and Matt Hendricks answered with a goal in the first round. After four straight failed attempts, it was Simmonds came down and beat Capitals goalie Braden Holtby between the pads. When Bryzgalov denied Brouwer at the other end, the Flyers improved to 3-6 this season in the shootout, and won for the third time in their fourth tie-breaker.
"Those are big points," Flyers center Claude Giroux said. "At the start of the year those are a lot of points we let go. The last few months we've done a pretty good job. And we're scoring goals, too, so that's the most important thing."
It's just the 23rd all-time win for the Flyers in the shootout, finally moving them up from 30th in the League in that category.
Bryzgalov has been a big reason for the Flyers' improved shootout performance. After allowing goals on eight of the first 10 shots he faced this season, he's now stopped 10 of the last 15, including three of four attempts Thursday against the Capitals.
"I think Bryz has done a tremendous job for us," coach Peter Laviolette said. "And I think shootouts is part of that. It goes back to that Calgary game (a 5-4 shootout win Feb. 25). … He came up, we got big points out of there and from there he started to catch fire. There's a tremendous amount of confidence right now in our goaltender. When your goaltender gives you that confidence, you feel like you can score goals, you feel like maybe you can take a few more chances. He played a great game. I think the shootout is another example of that. He made some big saves."
It also helped to get some goals. Simmonds saw his goal drought reach 15 games, but he seemed confident enough in the shootout. His goal in the tiebreaker was his first in six attempts this season and third in 11 career attempts.
Said Simmonds: "I was talking to (Read) there and I was like, 'How's the five-hole?' and he's like, 'I don't know he tried to close it down on me,' so I just went down and shot as hard as I could five-hole."
"We work on these things … and he's consistently the guy that hangs in there at the end and puts up the most goals, does the best job at it," Laviolette said of Simmonds. "I think it's an art. I think you have to have a plan when you go in there and the patience and you have to be 'Cool Hand Luke' sometimes. He's proven that in practice. He scored one in exhibition, he scored one this season. I don't think it's a reflection of a game or how you're playing; I think it's more an art than anything else."
Holtby, who stopped 27 of 28 shots in regulation, shouldered the blame for the loss.
"That was terrible," he said of his shootout performance. "Those two goals aren't even good goals for the players to score. Those just shouldn't go in. The shootout we should've won 1-0. All I can really do is look at it tomorrow and make sure I improve on it."
The only mistake he made in regulation was on Giroux's 27th goal of the season. Taking a stretch pass from Jaromir Jagr, Giroux blew past a flat-footed Dennis Wideman and had a direct path to the net. Holtby came out to attempt a poke check, but Giroux dragged the puck around him and scored into a vacated net at 6:05 of the second period to tie the game 1-1.
"I got caught halfway," Holtby said. "When he had his head down kind of going around (Wideman), the right play I think with my game is slide, poke check and surprise him. And I just kind of did a halfway effort and didn't slide in, go aggressive as I needed to, and that's why it got around me. That's a play I'd like to have back, but one I'm not going to dwell on."
Giroux said he was stunned to see Holtby charge out of the net.
"He came out and kind of surprised me," Giroux said. "I was able to do a little toe drag around him and had an open net. Those are pretty fun."
Alex Ovechkin looked to be having fun right at the start of the game, as he scored just 26 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Brooks Laich's aggressive forecheck led to Braydon Coburn turning over the puck to Ovechkin in the left corner in the Flyers' zone. As Ovechkin carried the puck to the net, Bryzgalov poked it away from him. Ovechkin bounced off a Nicklas Grossmann check, the puck came right back to him -- and he quickly fired a wrist shot from the slot that beat Bryzgalov for his 33rd of the season, one more than he had in 79 games last season.
It was Ovechkin's third straight game with a goal, and his sixth in his last five games.
But that was all Ovechkin could get despite finishing with a game-high six shots.
"After the second period I felt we dominated them and we had more opportunities to score goals, so the two posts and I missed the empty net and then he (Bryzgalov) saved the puck," Ovechkin said. "The third period was a tie game and they had chances, we had a couple of chances. But again, in the shootout, that's a lottery and sometimes the goalie plays well and you just can't score."
Both teams had chances to take the lead in regulation and overtime. Washington's Marcus Johansson was awarded a penalty shot at 7:02 of the second period when Matt Carle tripped him from behind on a breakaway, but the puck rolled off his stick before he could get a shot off. Both teams had power plays early in the third period.
The Flyers had the only two shots of overtime, but Holtby stopped both without allowing a rebound.
The Capitals don't have long to dwell on the point they didn't get. They have three games coming up, two of which are against the teams directly behind them in the playoff chase -- the Jets on Friday, and after a visit from the Wild on Sunday, they host the Sabres next Tuesday.
"We've got to move on," Washington forward Joel Ward said. "Obviously, we have a big one tomorrow and hopefully we'll push Winnipeg a little further back. … I think we have to go back home and establish our home building and just kind of regroup."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK