May 7 vs. Philadelphia Flyers at Capital One Arena
Time: 7 p.m.
Radio: Capitals Radio 24/7, 99.1 FM
Philadelphia Flyers 23-23-7
Washington Capitals 34-14-5
Home from an eventful and prosperous final road trip of the regular season earlier in the week, the Caps conclude the season with a three-game homestand. The Philadelphia Flyers are in the District this weekend for a set of back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Caps played a pair of wild and wooly games against the Rangers in New York on Monday and Wednesday, winning both despite dealing with an onslaught of issues both on and off the ice during their three and a half days in Manhattan. Because of injuries and other absences and circumstances, the Caps started both games with only 17 skaters, the first times in more than 17 years they went into a game with fewer than the maximum of 18 skaters.
In Wednesday's 4-2 win over the Rangers, T.J. Oshie notched a hat trick - including a pair of power-play goals - in his first game following the passing of his father Tim "Coach" Oshie earlier in the week. Oshie's output was enough for Vitek Vanecek to earn his 20th victory of the season, becoming the third rookie goaltender in franchise history to achieve that feat.
Six different fights broke out in less than five minutes to start the game - the first three of them one second after the opening puck drop - further depleting a thin Caps bench early in the game. Nic Dowd and linemates Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway fought their New York counterparts on the first shift of the game.
At one point, Washington had six players simultaneously occupying the visitors' penalty box at Madison Square Garden.
"For our group, we didn't really know what to expect tonight," says Caps defenseman Brenden Dillon, who took a couple shifts on the wing in the first period of Wednesday's game. "It could have gone a bunch of different ways from the physicality standpoint to the way that they usually play, fast and with lots of skill.
"I think it's just credit to our group that we've answered the bell, right off the hop. Dowder's line did a great job, all three of those guys. They did a great job and got us going. With everything going on and the extracurricular stuff, we knew we had to have a bigger goal in mind, that we needed these two points. It was it was huge for us in the standings.
"[The Rangers] had nothing to lose, and sometimes those are the toughest games to play. And when they were trying to get things going and taking some penalties, we made them pay on the power play and it was just overall a great, great win for us."
After an off-day on Thursday, the Caps will reconvene on Friday morning to prepare for the first of two battles with the Flyers, happy to be back home. They endured a lot in their three-plus days in New York, both on and off the ice.
Can those common challenges, faced and met together over those days in Manhattan, have a galvanizing effect on a team at an important point of the season?
"One hundred percent," says Dillon. "I think we've got to get out of New York. These last couple of days, if there is some sort of adversity we've just gone through it. At this time of year - with four or five games left - the importance of the people that we're missing, the roles that guys had to step into, the different kinds of ways to win the games. At one point tonight, I was on the left wing there because we only had five forwards.
"When people talk about sports, this is just unbelievable evening. I hope a lot of people tuned in, because this is hockey. There were amazing moments, goals, fights, physicality, high end skill plays. It's just unbelievable."
Although the Caps have clinched a berth in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs, the final three games are not without meaning. Washington needs two regulation wins in its final three games in order to secure the East Division title. The Flyers are here on Friday and Saturday nights, and the Caps close out the campaign on Tuesday night against Boston.
On the morning of March 1 of this year, the Flyers owned an 11-4-3 record, fifth best in the League from a points percentage standpoint at that juncture of the season. With an average of 3.39 goals per game, the Flyers ranked fourth in the NHL. Philly's 2.89 goals against per game to that point ranked 16th, right in the middle of the NHL pack.
In just over two months since, things have turned in a southerly direction for the Flyers. Over their last 35 games the Flyers are 12-19-4, 27th in points percentage over that span. Only half of those dozen Philly victories have come in regulation and the Flyers have surrendered four or more goals in 20 of those last 35 games. They've been outscored by nearly a goal and a half a game, scoring an average of 2.57 goals per game (tied for 23rd) while yielding 3.97 (31st).
Only once in the last 67 days has Philadelphia been able to win consecutive games. The Flyers downed the Rangers 2-1 at home on March 27 and won a 4-3 overtime decision over the Sabres in Buffalo two nights later.
More recently, the Flyers have one win in their last five games (1-4-0), a 7-2 pasting of the Penguins in Philadelphia on Monday.