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Top teams in East still have issues facing them

Wednesday, 03.23.2011 / 12:24 AM / NHL Insider

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Top teams in East still have issues facing them
PHILADELPHIA -- Washington defenseman Karl Alzner left Wells Fargo Center late Tuesday wondering how intense a playoff series against Philadelphia would be. He couldn't have been the only one.

The Capitals and Flyers had just finished giving a national TV audience a three-hour thrill ride that didn't end until Alexander Semin beat Brian Boucher in the third round of the shootout to give the visitors a 5-4 win.

The energy inside the building was playoff electric as the Flyers climbed back from a 3-0 deficit to take a 4-3 lead with just under six minutes left. The crowd went silent when Marcus Johansson tied it with a wicked one-timer from the top of the left circle with just over three minutes remaining. The speed on the ice was lightning fast as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference went up and down in seesaw-like fashion during the scoreless 4-on-4 overtime. The skill in the shootout was world class.

When it was done and the Capitals joined the Flyers as the two teams in the Eastern Conference to own playoff berths, neither dressing room had a party-like atmosphere but both were filled with positive vibes, smiling players and relieved coaches.

They were also filled with some questions because as entertaining of a game as it was and as good as these two teams are, they've put themselves on a trajectory toward a Conference Final showdown that might only happen if: A) The Flyers figure out if Sergei Bobrovsky is ready for playoff hockey; and B) The Capitals remember how to throw the knockout punch when they've got a good team on the ropes.

You might think that's too critical of an assessment, but the expectations on both of these teams has reached an alarmingly high level and that means they're open to nitpicking when things aren't perfect.

"Obviously (giving up the lead) wasn't good, but in a game like this against a team of that caliber you want to look at the positives and to find a way to win against them in their building is really good," Alzner told NHL.com. "We know we can hold leads. We've been playing good defensive hockey. When they get momentum they're like a freight train. We found a way to halt them a bit and come back, so that's good."

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau commented on his team's "character that doesn't quit" despite the fact that it gave away all of the 3-0 lead it built within the first 21 minutes and 22 seconds of the game. He used Johansson's tying goal, an even overtime and the theatrics of Nicklas Backstrom, Matt Hendricks and Semin as his proof.

"I think most teams would have said, 'Oh my goodness,' " Boudreau said. "In this building, as loud as it was with all the momentum, we weren't getting any shots, we come back...just to have the wherewithal to come back in a game like that was important to us."

But is it alarming that the Capitals, winners of 11 of their last 12 games, even put themselves in such a precarious position by egregiously turning the puck over deep in their own end and leaving a goal scorer like Claude Giroux wide open in the lower part of the left circle so he could hammer home a one-timer? 

"It's probably a good lesson for us to not stop playing and just think that the team you're facing will lay down for you, because that's not the case at all," Capitals forward Mike Knuble said. "We know we can fight back and all that, but we do want to try to take something away from each game and if you get 'em down, you can't take your foot off the accelerator. We let them right back in the game."

That's correctable.

"When you believe you can win you usually have that opportunity," Boudreau added.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was effusive in his praise of his club, saying he "liked them all" and it was "about as honest of an effort as we've had in a month." There was indeed a lot to like, especially with the way the Flyers attacked offensively and built on the momentum created by the lucky bounce Kris Versteeg got on his goal that made it 3-1.

The puck went in off of Dennis Wideman's skate and the Flyers would go on to score three more times over a span of just over 26 minutes.

"Offensively I think it was one of our best games moving the puck," said Giroux, who scored and added an assist. "We were just playing faster. We knew this game was going to be a test for us so it's great that guys showed up and guys were ready to go."

However, Laviolette and the Flyers also had to deal with questions about Bobrovsky, who gave up three goals on nine shots in less than 15 minutes of work. Two of the goals came on deep shots that Bobrovsky fumbled.

"We've all had tough games and he probably wishes he has another crack at those," Laviolette said. "In the Dallas game (Saturday night) he probably played one of his sharpest games in a while."

So does that mean he just an off night against the Capitals or are the Flyers trying to prepare an inexperienced and now inconsistent goalie to be their No. 1 guy in the playoffs?

Bobrovsky has won only five of his 13 starts since the All-Star break and hasn't reached the second period in two of them. He also gave up five goals to Atlanta in a span of 20 minutes and eight seconds in a brutal overtime loss on March 12. The Flyers held a 3-0 lead going into the third period that night.

"You just gotta shake it off, come back tomorrow and put the work in, put it behind you," said Boucher, who was beating himself up for giving up the tying goal to Johansson and then three goals on three shots in the shootout. "It's such a long season and there are nights when it doesn't go your way and nights when it goes great. It's about bouncing back and having a short-term memory."

As much fun as the Capitals and Flyers gave the hockey world Tuesday, forgetting about it might be the best thing they can do if they want to meet again in what could be the most entertaining Eastern Conference Finals in a while.

"We want to keep all the positive aspects of our game going in the right direction," Knuble said, "but there is always room for improvement."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
Quote of the Day

This is a big year for us in a lot of ways. You can see Garth and management really trying to find that solution to get us into the playoffs and consistently have that. The pressure is great. You have to enjoy it. It just means there's a great opportunity ahead of you.

— Islanders captain John Tavares