WASHINGTON -- The home-and-home series between the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers that began on Sunday afternoon at Verizon Center provided each team with an appropriate taste of what a potential Stanley Cup Playoff matchup could feel like.
In front of an energetic crowd with each teams' fan bases making their voices heard, two Metropolitan Division rivals with a rich, shared history battled through a contentious 60-plus minute game, neither shying away from any sort of contact in between or after whistles.
By game's end, it was Philadelphia that scored the decisive blow, erasing a two-goal third-period deficit to defeat Washington 5-4 in overtime.
"Being down by two going into the third was obviously tough against such a good team," Flyers defenseman Mark Streit said. "We never gave up. We battled back and we won the game. Not everything was perfect [Sunday]. We have to improve in a few areas, but overall pretty happy about the big win."
Vincent Lecavalier scored the game-winner at 2:45 when his wrist shot changed direction and found its way past goaltender Braden Holtby (31 saves). It was the veteran forward's 900th career NHL point.
Dmitry Orlov, Marcus Johansson and Jay Beagle scored for the Capitals, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped and an opportunity to attain a playoff position for the first time since Jan. 18 slip away.
"Even though we are up, we still have to play desperate a little bit, just wanting to really finish them off," Capitals forward Joel Ward said. "We kind of let them off the hook. We have done that the last couple of games, which is frustrating."
The teams will meet again Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center.
With the Capitals and Flyers each having played matinees the day before, the game got off to an expectedly sleepy start, but the intensity ramped up considerably after the first five minutes.
Washington took advantage first at 6:06 when Orlov capped off a dominant shift by the team's second line. With the Flyers' defense scrambling in an attempt to gain control of the puck, Orlov called his own shot, motioning to Troy Brouwer, who was behind the net. The defenseman wound up from the left circle and fired a booming shot past goaltender Steve Mason (25 saves).
The Flyers tied the game on the power play at 11:22, though more than 90 seconds of game time had elapsed before it could be confirmed. Claude Giroux ripped a one-timer past Holtby from the left circle that clipped the back bar and caromed right out. The official behind the net, however, quickly waved it off, so play continued as the Flyers huddled to celebrate.
Once play halted, the initial ruling was overturned by video review, officially confirming Giroux's 20th goal of the season.
Johansson restored the Capitals' one-goal lead at 13:56 when he tipped in Jason Chimera's centering pass for his eighth of the season and his second at even strength.
Another potential goal required video review with about five minutes remaining in the period. Nicklas Backstrom's shot trickled behind Mason, but Streit swiped it off the goal line just as it was about to cross over.
The referee signaled no goal, and the subsequent review proved inconclusive to keep the score 2-1. It was a much-needed break for the Flyers, who were outplayed and outshot 17-6 in the first period.
"We were giving them three power plays," Flyers coach Craig Berube said when asked to explain his team's sluggish start. "We were slow in our end at defending and left the front of the net open a bunch of times for chances. Just a little bit slow defensively and not aggressive enough."
Philadelphia began the second with renewed energy, testing Holtby early. The Capitals goaltender thwarted the Flyers' chances, most impressively extending his left leg to prevent Wayne Simmonds' wide-open opportunity on a mini-breakaway.
The Flyers, though, seized momentum and cashed in at 12:50 on a shorthanded goal by Adam Hall. Alex Ovechkin turned the puck over behind the Washington net, leaving an ill-advised drop pass for John Carlson that Sean Couturier retrieved and fed to Hall in the slot.
Yet the Flyers' grasp on momentum loosened rather quickly when the Capitals scored twice in less than three minutes to grab a 4-2 lead. Beagle slammed a backhanded pass from Ward in the crease at 13:44 before Orlov scored on another long-range slap shot for his second of the game and third of the season, all of which have come against Philadelphia.
It was Orlov, however, that shifted momentum back to Philadelphia when he boarded Brayden Schenn at 9:33 of the third period, giving the Flyers a five-minute power play.
Jakub Voracek scored on the man advantage at 11:58, and the Flyers felt in control from that point forward.
"I think the momentum was on our side after [Voracek's goal]," Lecavalier said. "We played the way that we know how to play, that we have played in third-period pushes. Just getting in deep and playing your zone and getting offensive zone time. We get opportunities like that, and it went well."
Giroux sent the game into overtime with a tip-in goal with 1:05 remaining in regulation and Mason pulled in favor of an extra attacker. From the second period on, Philadelphia outshot Washington 30-12.
It was the third two-goal lead that the Capitals have blown in three games since returning from the NHL's two-week break for the 2014 Sochi Olympics and 14th this season.
"We've done it too many times," Capitals forward Eric Fehr said. "We almost don't want two-goal leads the way we're playing with them right now. I don't know what it is. If we shut our brains off for a little bit or think the game's over in this League we should have learned by now the games are far from over."
As for the Flyers, they looked at their victory Sunday as one of their biggest of the season.
"Coming through in one of the biggest moments of the year right now is great to see," Mason said. "For us to be able to force overtime and get the one point at least and then come through and get the second one against a divisional opponent who is right behind us, it's huge."
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