WASHINGTON – When Bruce Boudreau wakes up Monday morning, his team will be atop the Eastern Conference standings for the first time this season. That's not going to be on his mind though – it is, after all, his son Ben's birthday.
The Washington Capitals moved to the top of the conference with a 3-2 overtime victory Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center. Mike Green scored a rare 5-on-4 overtime goal 29 seconds into the extra session to power the Capitals to their fourth straight win and sixth in seven games.
"It's only November 7th," Boudreau said. "I know we can compete against these other teams. We're in the mix. I'm not saying we're better or we're worse, but we're in the mix to compete against the better teams."
Given that the Capitals collected the Presidents' Trophy last season, being in the top spot this early in the 2010-11 campaign isn't much of a milestone, but it does represent how the team has overcome a bit of a slow start.
By earning a point, Philadelphia is tied with the Capitals at 20 points, but Washington has an extra win. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Flyers, who were playing on back-to-back nights after a 2-1 victory Saturday on Long Island.
"Not our best hockey, but there was a lot of stuff we did well and a lot of stuff we can work on," Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger said. "To get three points out of four [this weekend] is pretty good."
The Flyers were able to force overtime despite Pronger taking a four-minute penalty for high-sticking with 3:55 left in regulation. Sean O'Donnell was whistled for boarding with 18.1 seconds left, so when the extra session began the Capitals had a 5-on-3 advantage.
Pronger came out of the box and made it 5-on-4, and it would have gone to 4-on-3 at the next whistle. The Capitals didn't need it. Mike Knuble nearly scored at the right post and then Nicklas Backstrom was able to get the puck to Green at the right point for the game-winner.
"We had some chances and their goalie made some good stops," Green said. "We were fortunate that we had that power play leading into the overtime. We definitely needed it. They're a strong team and we knew they were going to come in the OT."
Added Boudreau: "We were thinking about going offside on purpose – just to get the 4-on-3. In hindsight, I'm glad we didn't."
The goal gave Capitals rookie netminder Braden Holtby a win in his first NHL start. Holtby relieved Michal Neuvirth in the third period Friday against the Bruins and earned his first win, but he was in net for the full 60-plus minutes Sunday and stopped 23 shots.
He yielded goals on two of the first eight shots he saw against Philadelphia, but stopped the final 17 shots he faced – including three in rapid succession in one critical flurry in the final period.
"I knew it was going to happen sooner or later – that they were going to score on me," Holtby said. "It's definitely huge, but on a team like this if a goalie just kind of gives the team a chance to win they're usually going to pull through with some goals. It definitely gave me a lot of confidence going in."
At 21 years and 52 days old, Holtby became the youngest goaltender to start a game in the NHL this season. The Capitals have now started three netminders – none of them have celebrated their 23rd birthday.
"[Holtby] was awesome. Who else do we got that's good here [in the organization] to play goalie?" Green joked. "Again, as a defenseman I said this about Neuvirth – I was so confident playing in front of him. All his rebounds – he was scooping them up. He wasn't staying in the net. He was diving out and covering them up. Maybe as a young goaltender you wouldn't put yourself out there like that, but these guys are confident and that's what we need to win."
Added Holtby: "I've believed in myself my whole like – I think that's how I got here and how everyone gets here. At the same time, it is a lot of wondering before you get to this moment and finally being out there and seeing that I can compete out there is a nice feeling."
Nikolai Zherdev put the Flyers on the board first at 9:51 of the opening period. Andreas Nodl flipped the puck high in the air towards the neutral zone, and when Zherdev settled it Philadelphia had a 2-on-1. He decided to shoot instead of pass, and ripped one past Holtby.
Washington carried the play for most of the first period and Eric Fehr leveled the score at 17:29. He collected a pass along the left wall from John Erskine and snapped a shot from the left circle off the crossbar and in for his third goal of the campaign.
Philadelphia erased back-to-back extra-man opportunities at the start of the second period and took the lead shortly after. Ville Leino tipped a point shot by Andrei Mezsaros past Holtby at 4:04 for his third of the season.
"We fought hard today for that one point," Flyers captain Mike Richards said. "I thought we probably could have played better, but [Sergei Bobrovsky] kept us in the game. He had some big saves."
The Capitals' power play got a third chance in the period and didn't waste it. Alex Ovechkin's shot from the left wing hit someone on the way to the net and ricocheted to Backstrom just to the right of the goal and he slipped a backhanded pass to Alexander Semin in the slot for an easy one-timer past Philadelphia goaltender Bobrovsky at 8:54. It was Semin's ninth tally of the season and fourth straight game in which he has scored.
In each of the past two games Washington has taken a big lead only to let it slip away in the third period. The Flyers had more of the puck in the third period, but the Capitals limited them to eight shots.
"Everything felt stable out there," Green said. "It felt composed and there was no panic. In the past we've got into situations where we panicked and there was confusion and I think tonight we were pretty stable."
1 - 0 PHI
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 PHI
2 - 2 Tie
3 - 2 WSH
Hi stick - double minor