|Held without a shot until late in the game, Alex Ovechkin stole the puck and netted the tiebreaking goal with 4:32 remaining, giving the Capitals a 5-4 victory over the Flyers in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
WATCH highlights from the Capitals' win
The Philadelphia Flyers held Ovechkin, the NHL’s top scorer, without a shot well into the third period on Friday night. But Ovechkin paid the Flyers back for all the battering and bouncing around he received by stealing the puck and scoring the game-winning goal with 4:32 left in regulation, giving Washington a 5-4 win in the opener of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Flyers stifled Ovechkin through the first two periods and skated off with a 4-2 lead as Daniel Briere and Vaclav Prospal each scored twice. But he got his first playoff point when he assisted on the second of Mike Green’s two goals in the first 6:26 of the final period as the Caps tied the score.
Ovechkin then showed why he set an NHL record for goals by a left wing with 65 during the regular season — and put the Caps ahead to stay in their first playoff game since 2003. He stole the puck from Philadelphia defenseman Lasse Kukkonen near the net and lifted a shot over Martin Biron before the goaltender could react. Amid chants of “MVP,” Ovechkin raced to the boards and jumped into the glass to celebrate.
''They held him in check pretty good,'' Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said, ''but he's one of the guys that needs one chance.''
Sergei Fedorov, who was acquired by Washington at the trade deadline and has three Stanley Cup rings from his days with Detroit, was impressed with Ovechkin’s performance in his playoff debut.
''It's not easy: so much talk about everything and such a great season,'' Fedorov said. ''Playoffs is a little different. I'm actually surprised — really amazed — that he kept himself so together, so cool in the final moments of the game.''
Game 2 is Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center, where the Caps have won seven in a row. Overall, Washington has won its last eight games and 12 of 13.
The Caps were greeted by a standing ovation when they took the ice — but Ovechkin was greeted by a Philadelphia team determined not to let him score the way he did in the regular season. Kukkonen and Knuble were among those who bumped and banged him, preventing the NHL’s busiest shooter during the regular season from getting a single shot on goal through the game’s first 53 minutes.
''We did a good job of containing him,'' Philadelphia's Scottie Upshall said, ''for the first 45 minutes.''
Instead, the Caps grabbed a 1-0 lead at 3:16 when ex-Flyer Donald Brashear picked up a deflected puck and whipped it into the open left side of the net. After Prospal tied it with a wrist shot past Cristobal Huet at 8:17, another unlikely scorer, Dave Steckel, put the Caps ahead again 4:08 into the second.
Brashear and Steckel combined for 10 goals all season.
But the Flyers owned the rest of the period. Briere tied it at 11:46, coming out of the penalty box and racing past the defense to take an outlet pass from Knuble and deposit it behind Huet. Just 33 seconds later, the Flyers took their first lead when Kimmo Timonen passed to a wide-open Prospal, who beat Huet.
It became 4-2 at 15:22 when Prospal feathered a pass from the right circle to Briere, who was all alone at the left post.
But a two-goal deficit was a relatively small challenge for a team that made the playoffs despite being in last place when Boudreau took over as coach on Nov. 22. That’s why Boudreau instructed his players at the second intermission: ''Don't give up. Don't give up. Just keep pushing.''
Green got the crowd back into the game 1:50 into the third period, converting a pass from Fedorov into a half-empty net. The NHL’s top scorer among defensemen tied it at 6:26, ripping a power-play blast from the top of the right circle past Biron after a pass from Ovechkin. It was essentially a 5-on-3 advantage because Philadelphia's Patrick Thoresen was down on the ice, writhing in pain, after being hit in the groin while blocking a shot. He may face surgery.
The Caps had the better chances before Ovechkin’s game-winner sent the Flyers home with a painful loss — they had lost just once in regulation during the regular season when leading after two periods.
"Momentum is on their side and we've just got to regroup," coach John Stevens said. "You take each game, win or lose, and take what you can from it and go onto the next one. There’s such big momentum swings in a series. You can’t let one game linger on.”
Malone’s power-play goal with 1:02 left broke a tie and he added an empty-netter as the Penguins blew a 3-0 lead before beating the Senators 5-3 in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
With Martin Lapointe in the penalty box for high-sticking Jarkko Ruutu, Malone grabbed the rebound of Marian Hossa’s shot, circled behind the net and stuffed a wraparound past Martin Gerber. He hit the empty net with 6.5 seconds remaining on the Penguins’ 54th and final shot on goal — by far the most in regulation in the Pens’ playoff history; the previous mark was 49.
"Sid threw the puck on net like we were trying to all night,” Malone said of his game-winner. “Hoss tipped it and Gerber was out a little bit, so I was trying to beat him inside that far post.”
The Penguins also got production from their stars. Sidney Crosby, held scoreless in the Pens’ 4-0 win in Game 1, had four assists. Evgeni Malkin added three and Hossa had two. Petr Sykora also had two goals for the Penguins.
"Fifty-four shots? There's only so much a goaltender can do," Crosby said. "We were playing great hockey. When it was 3-3, we weren't happy, but we had to keep playing the way we were, and we got rewarded. We knew if we kept playing like that, we'd be fine."
The disappointed Senators head home for Game 3 on Monday night down two games to none. Ottawa has lost all six series in which it dropped the first two games, including last spring’s Stanley Cup Final against Anaheim.
"I think our guys had a lot of character, played hard and battled from a 3-0 deficit," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "I have to believe they will play well at home."
The first half of the game looked like a continuation of Wednesday’s series opener. The Penguins bombarded Gerber with 20 shots in the first period and opened the scoring at 16:10 when Sergei Gonchar’s power-play blast beat Gerber.
Sykora scored on the power play at 5:22 of the second period and added an even-strength goal at 10:52 for a 3-0 lead. At that point, the Senators had been outscored 7-0 in the series.
"They're a high-skilled team, give them room and they're going to take you apart," Gerber said.
But Ottawa’s grinders started going to the net, and the strategy quickly paid off when Shean Donovan redirected Chris Neil’s pass behind Marc-Andre Fleury just 33 seconds after Sykora’s second goal. Cory Stillman made it 3-2 at 16:11 with Ottawa’s first power-play goal of the series, punching a loose puck through Fleury’s pads.
The Senators left the ice after two periods trailing only 3-2 despite having been outshot 40-19.
I don't think we got comfortable,” Malone said of the Penguins’ attitude after going up 3-0. “Nobody panicked. We figured that if we kept on going, we were getting enough chances and we'd get one in sooner or later."
“We got goals from guys who went to the net,” he said. “We’ve got to get goals from other people.”
Therrien felt the team that played better won the game.
“We dictated right from the start,” he said. “It’s about deserving, and we deserved to win that game.”
Rangers hold off Devils, 2-1 | Video
The 10th game this season between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils followed a script similar to the previous nine — once the third period rolled around, it was the Rangers who had all the answers.
Jaromir Jagr and Shawn Avery scored goals 23 seconds apart for the Rangers, who now have a 12-2 edge in the third against the Devils this season, and Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves as New York won 2-1 to capture the first two games at Prudential Center in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Rangers stand poised to pay their cross-river rivals back for a first-round sweep two years ago, taking a 2-0 lead home to Madison Square Garden for Game 3 on Sunday night. The Rangers have never lost a series in which they won the first two games.
“Again, it was a tight, tight match,” Rangers forward Brendan Shanahan said. “I don’t think anything has been black and white in this series so far. We’ve just been fortunate to find ways to get goals and to find ways to get wins.”
Meanwhile, the Devils continue to search for ways to generate offense and get pucks past Lundqvist. John Madden ended his shutout bid with 1:23 remaining and goaltender Martin Brodeur pulled for an extra attacker, but the Devils still have scored only 11 goals in 10 games against the Rangers this season.
“They are definitely taking control of the series,” said Brodeur, who stopped 28 shots. “We feel that we are not far away. A bounce here, a bounce there and it could have gone our way today. We have to keep our heads up and try to do to them what they did to us in their building.”
For the second straight game, the teams were tied at the end of the first and second periods. The first 40 minutes ended with the Devils enjoying a modest 15-13 edge in shots.
But their woes in the third continued as the Rangers outshot them 17-12 and broke the ice at 4:26 on Jagr’s 73rd career playoff goal, which ties him with Dino Ciccarelli for 12th all-time.
The play started with Michal Rozsival’s shot from the point deflecting behind the net, where Jagr outmuscled Devils defenseman Colin White for the puck. As the two players skated around the left side of the net, White nudged Brodeur slightly off the goalpost. At the same time, Jagr wheeled in the faceoff circle and fired a shot that went off Brodeur’s back and into the goal.
“It’s tough to find the room out there. Once I had a little bit I tried to turn around and shoot it on the net because you never know what could happen,” Jagr said.
With the Devils reeling, Avery responded by delivering the knockout punch with his second goal in as many games. Scott Gomez won a faceoff and Dan Girardi fired a shot that deflected off Devils forward Patrik Elias over to Avery. He rifled the puck over Brodeur’s glove to double the Rangers’ lead.
New Jersey, which hadn’t scored since defenseman Paul Martin’s power-play goal in the second period of Game 1, finally got on the board when Madden was able to deflect Elias’ slap shot between Lundqvist’s pads. But Jamie Langenbrunner was sent to the box for hooking with 54 seconds left, hindering the Devils’ abilities to press for the tying score.
“Again, like a broken record, we played well for most of the game,” Langenbrunner said. “One goes in that normally doesn’t, and we have a mental lapse and they score again. We fought hard, showed some character to get one at the end but it was too little, too late.”
Where New Jersey let a major opportunity slip away was on its power play — New York was assessed the first four penalties in the game, including a double high-sticking minor against Christian Backman at 6:53 of the second. The Devils failed to even register a shot during the four-minute man advantage.
The second period in particular was chippy as the teams combined for more penalties than shots on goal. There were five sets of coincidental minors, including a couple instances where a pair of players from each side ended up in the box. Gomez, in his first playoff series for the Rangers after helping the Devils win two Stanley Cups, went off along with Langenbrunner after one skirmish.
“It’s the playoffs,” Gomez said. “One thing about Jamie, he’s one of the best playoff performers of guys I’ve ever seen. He was asking how I was doing.”
The Rangers are doing just fine, and Shanahan said one of their big challenges in Game 3 will be handling what guarantees to be a raucous crowd and not trying to do too much.
“I think our fans are going to be into it. They’ll be excited, we’ll be excited. We’ve got to harness that emotion, use it correctly in a way that doesn’t have us run out of position,” Shanahan said. “Our fans are great to us, we do feed off of them, but we certainly have to harness it in the proper fashion.”
New Jersey, meanwhile, will be seeking to end a team-record-tying five-game playoff losing streak dating back to last year’s Eastern Conference semifinals, when they lost the final three games to Ottawa.
“It takes four games to win a series, and they have only won two,” Devils coach Brent Sutter said.
Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.