|Joffery Lupul's power-play goal 6;06 into overtime gave the Flyers a 3-2 victory, which knocked Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals out of the postseason and put Philadelphia into the Eastern Conference semifinals.
WATCH Lupul's series clinching OT goal
The Washington Capitals rallied from a 3-1 deficit to force a seventh and deciding game, and Ovechkin’s goal late in the second period tied the game at 2 and sent it to overtime. But Lupul knocked in a power-play rebound 6:06 into OT to give the Flyers a stunning 3-2 victory at the Verizon Center and a trip to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It was a tough series for me personally, offensively,” said Lupul, who hadn’t scored a goal until his series-winner. “To get one when it matters most is a great feeling.”
Philadelphia earned a meeting with the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern semis — one season after finishing with the worst record in the NHL. The Flyers avoided what would have been a monumental collapse and won a playoff series for the first time since before the lockout: In 2004, they lost the Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Tampa Bay.
“It was great to see the excitement of the players and the organization, especially after last year,” Flyers coach John Stevens said.
Lupul’s goal sent the Caps home with a heartbreaking loss in a season that saw them rally to capture the Southeast Division title after being next-to-last in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break, then rally again after losing three of the first four games to the Flyers. Washington dropped to 1-5 in Game 7s and has yet to win a playoff series since making the Stanley Cup Final in 1998.
“I don’t think the disappointment will go away for a long time,” said Caps coach Bruce Boudreau, who led his team from last in the Eastern Conference when he replaced Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22 to a division title. “They left it all out there. I told them they gave me the greatest year of my life.”
And perhaps the most disappointing ending.
Caps defenseman Tom Poti was called for tripping 4:15 into overtime after Washington was denied by goaltender Martin Biron on several good chances earlier in the OT. Mike Richards got off a one-timer from the right circle about halfway through the advantage, but Cristobal Huet slid over, took the shot in the midsection and held on.
It looked like the Caps might escape the power play, but with the advantage nearly over, Kimmo Timonen took a screened slap shot from about 45 feet. Huet got his pad on it, but the rebound went to his right — and his gaze didn’t. With the goaltender looking to his left, Lupul collected the rebound, took a half-step to his left and backhanded the puck into the open left side of the net, stunning the capacity crowd, who had been angered by the overtime tripping call.
''You're on a power play, the puck goes to the net, you end up banging it in, and 20 guys are ramming you into the boards,'' Lupul said about the celebration. ''I'm still catching my breath right now. I'm sure it'll sink in here in the next couple of hours.”
Referees Paul Devorski and Mike Leggo could have called a penalty earlier in OT against Washington defenseman John Erskine for taking down Sami Kapanen, but didn’t. Poti drew a whistle when he took down Umberger in front of the penalty box.
“I thought it was a penalty — he tripped him,” Boudreau said of the call against Poti for taking down Philadelphia’s R.J. Umberger in the neutral zone.
Added Washington forward Brooks Laich: “If it had been one of their D-men taking down one of our forwards, our bench would have hollering too.”
Poti, who had nine seconds left in his penalty when the game-winner was scored, didn’t agree.
''To have the referee decide the series like that, with two teams battling like that, is tough to swallow. I definitely didn't think it was a penalty,'' he said.
Ovechkin finished with four goals — including two game-winners — and five assists in six games.
''It's hard,'' Ovechkin said of the series loss, ''but it's good experience for us.''
The NHL’s leading scorer got better and better as the series went on, and left with the admiration of the victorious Flyers.
|Alex Ovechkin was disappointed with the Caps' first-round playoff exit, but said the series was a good experience for his young Washington team.
“What a player — he can beat you in so many ways,” Stevens said in admiration. “He gets all the billing, and he deserves it all. He’s a great player.”
The Capitals took the lead 5:42 into the game while playing with a two-man advantage. Ovechkin teed up a slap shot the high slot, but missed wide. However, the rebound came right off the boards to Nicklas Backstrom, who banged it off the back of Biron and into the net for the Caps’ third 5-on-3 goal of the series.
Backstrom became the first rookie in 10 years to score a goal in four consecutive playoff games.
The Caps dominated play for the first two-thirds of the period, but the Flyers capitalized on their first power play. With Alexander Semin off for hooking, Scottie Upshall’s slapper from the top of the left circle trickled through Huet’s pads and into the net at 15:38.
The Flyers then had a chance to take control of the game when Sergei Fedorov was assessed a double minor penalty for high-sticking at the 16-minute mark and Dave Steckel was called for hooking 18 seconds later, giving the Flyers a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. Though they controlled the puck for almost the entire time, the Flyers got few good scoring chances, and Huet stopped the ones they did get. The Caps killed off the remainder of Fedorov’s penalty and were happy to get out of the first period tied 1-1.
The Flyers went ahead 2-1 at 9:47 of the second period when Washington defenseman Shaone Morrisonn was run over by Philadelphia’s Patrick Thoresen and the two players crashed into Huet, leaving the net wide open. Kapanen, set up in the circle to the left of Huet and rifled the puck into the vacated net amid boos from the sellout crowd, who wanted an interference call on Thoresen.
An explanation posted by the NHL on the Web said Thoresen body-checked Morrisonn legally and that no Philadelphia player made contact with Huet.
The Caps were unable to convert on a power play, but tied the game two seconds after a penalty to Steve Downie expired when Ovechkin’s wrist shot from just inside the top of the left circle zipped over Biron’s left shoulder and caught the far corner. Ovechkin was left alone when Flyers defenseman Jason Smith tried to make a play on Viktor Kozlov at the blue line; instead, Kozlov snuck a pass to Ovechkin, who scored his fourth of the season at 15:29.
Ovechkin nearly put the Caps ahead with just under two minutes ago when he raced down the left side and danced past a defenseman, but Biron got his pads on the Russian star’s shot.
The Caps outshot Philadelphia 16-5 in the scoreless third period and had the better of the chances but couldn’t beat Biron, who finished with 39 saves and won for the first time this season when playing on the second night of back-to-back games. His best stop in the period came with about six minutes left when he threw his body backward to beat Alexander Semin to a rebound and smother the puck.
''Every time you get a shot, you hope you can make that save, that next save, to buy your team a little time to get some bounces or to get on the offense,'' Biron said. ''In the third period, it was all about trying to buy some time.''
Material from wire services and team and League online and broadcast media was used in this report.