For the first 40 minutes of Sunday's matinee match between the Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers at Verizon Center, it was anybody's game, even if it didn't seem like much of a game at all.
The two sides combined for a grand total of just 14 even-strength shots on net in the first two periods, and although Philadelphia had the edge in territory and possession to that point of the contest, Washington owned a 1-0 lead on Andre Burakovsky's unassisted power play goal, a gift tally that came directly off a turnover from Philly defenseman Michael Del Zotto.
All that changed in the first seven minutes of the third period.
Video: PHI@WSH: Williams, Niskanen each score twice in 3rd
After registering just five mostly long distance shots on net in each of the first two periods, the Capitals scored on four of five shots in a span of exactly five minutes during the early part of the third period, opening up a 5-0 lead and chasing Flyers starter Steve Mason to the showers. Washington protected that advantage the rest of the way, preserving Philipp Grubauer's second shutout and eighth win of the season, and cementing Washington's ninth consecutive victory.
"Either they were buzzing or we were a step slow," says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen of his team's sluggish start to the game. "It could have been both. But Grubi was outstanding - especially in the first - and he gave us a chance to find our legs and we were better as the game went on. We were real good in the third, obviously."
Video: Caps players talk after a 5-0 win over Philadelphia
Grubauer made 24 saves to earn the shutout, and more than half (13) of those stops came in the first frame before his Caps teammates had their legs beneath them. Making his first start in 15 days, Grubauer made four saves in a span of just eight seconds early in the first period.
When the first frame came to a merciful close, the game was scoreless and Philly owned a 26-12 advantage in shot attempts.
"They were playing quick," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, of the Flyers' performance in the first period. "They had a little desperation and they were closing quickly on us, and we were a little bit slow in our game and not really executing to the level that we need to.
Video: Grubauer earns Sunday's Pepsi Zero Sugar Shutout
"I thought Grubi was really good in the first and we had a couple of penalty kills to keep them from [getting on] the board. I think they may have been up by a couple if they had either gotten a power play goal or if Grubi hadn't made a couple of saves. There was one play in particular where he made two saves back-to-back."
For the seventh straight game, the Caps got on the board first. At the tail end of a Washington power play near the midpoint of the second period, Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov tried to spring Burakovsky into the Philadelphia zone with a pass, but the puck hit Burakovsky's skate and stick, rolling right onto the stick of Del Zotto. Del Zotto tried to clear it, but barely got any of the puck with his attempt. It went right back on Burakovsky's tape, and he quickly sniped a shot from the slot, beating Mason for a 1-0 Washington lead at 9:08.
The two sides continued their sleepy play through the second, and although Washington still didn't have much going on at the offensive end of the ice, it limited Philadelphia to just a single even-strength shot on goal in the game's middle period.
Video: Trotz talks after a 5-0 win against the Flyers
"I thought in the second period we sort of stabilized a little bit," says Trotz. "There wasn't much going on. We counted the chances between periods and we knew there wasn't much going on for both sides. I thought we got it stabilized."
Playing their second game in as many days, the Flyers were still very much in the game heading into the third period, but they wouldn't be for long.
The first of Caps' quartet of rapid-fire goals came after Kuznetsov won an offensive zone draw. Marcus Johansson executed a perfect facsimile of Kuznetsov's own trademarked behind-the-net-reverse pass, a feed that enabled Justin Williams to score, giving the Caps a 2-0 lead at 1:36 of the final frame.
Less than two minutes later, Matt Niskanen finished off a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pretty feed from Alex Ovechkin after the latter pump faked a shot, a move that brought Mason out to Leesburg and left a vacant cage for Niskanen.
Niskanen netted his second goal in a span of just 2:27 when he took a backhand feed from Tom Wilson and pounded a shot from the right point. Mason got his catching glove on it, but the puck continued on and into the net behind him.
Washington ended the beleaguered goaltender's afternoon just 49 seconds later, when Nicklas Backstrom's sublime feed set up Williams' second goal of the game, a back door tap-in tally from the top of the paint.
"The first two periods, we played excellent road periods," says Flyers coach Dave Hakstol. "We didn't give up much and we got the better of the chances. But it got away from us in five minutes at the start of the third period."
The Capitals killed off one more minor penalty - they took five on the day - to keep Grubauer's sheet clean, and they coasted home the rest of the way to forge their third winning streak of exactly nine-games in length since setting the franchise record with a 14-game winning spree some seven years ago.
Video: Williams, Niskanen lead Caps to 5-0 win over Flyers
"In the third period, we came out with pretty good focus," says Trotz. "We talked about everybody upping the speed of our game, and using our roster a little bit better here. When we scored the second goal quickly, it got them on their heels and then the third and fourth [goals] sort of killed their will. They had played [Saturday], and it dropped quickly once we got [goals] two and three."