For a bit more than 59 minutes, Saturday night didn't look as though it would be the Capitals' night. Playing against Philadelphia for the second time in as many nights at Capital One Arena - and playing without Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Alex Ovechkin - the Caps started the game a forward short for the third time in their last four games. Losing T.J. Oshie to a lower body injury late in the second period, the Caps finished a game with fewer than 11 forwards for the third time in the last four games.
Heading into the final minute of the game, the Caps trailed by a single goal, 1-0. When Tom Wilson drew a hooking call on Jakub Voracek with 2:49 remaining, Washington pulled net minder Craig Anderson and went all-in trying to tie the game at 1-1 with a 6-on-4 manpower advantage. During that power play opportunity, the Caps pumped four shots on Philly netminder Alex Lyon, missed twice and had another bid blocked. Still, no sale.
Voracek exited the box, Washington regained the Philly zone and worked the puck around to Lars Eller, whose one-timer from the bottom of the right circle found its way through and behind Lyon to tie the game at 1-1 at 19:20 of the third.
With a minute remaining in overtime, Nic Dowd fed Connor Sheary for the game-winner, and the Caps skated off with a rather improbable 2-1 win, clinching home ice for at least the first round of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs in the process.
"I don't know how we pulled it off, to be honest," says Eller, who celebrated his 32nd birthday with the game-tying tally. "I can't ever remember missing so many guys and guys dropping during the game. The guys showed a lot of character today and stepped up in different ways.
"We didn't force it, we just stuck with our game and eventually we got rewarded. A really good effort all around."
Video: Postgame | Eller and Sheary
By night's end, the Caps were down to two natural centers in Eller and Dowd; Oshie and Michael Raffl filled in at the pivot position on two of the other lines. Eller finished the night with a team-high 25:49 in ice time.
After a lackluster start cost them in a 4-2 loss to the Flyers on Friday night, Washington was more assertive in the first 20 minutes of Saturday's rematch. Despite playing with a short bench and with a mishmash of lines again, the Caps got to their game earlier on Saturday and held a territorial and possession edge through a fast-paced first frame in which neither team was able to score.
Philadelphia was the better team in the second period, but the middle frame was also scoreless.
Early in the third, Philly's Scott Laughton staked the Flyers to a 1-0 lead. Philadelphia scored in transition after the Caps had been pressing for the first marker in Flyers territory. Laughton took a stretch pass from James van Riemsdyk and carried into Washington ice on a 2-on-1. He called his own number, beating Anderson at 3:42 of the third.
Washington had to kill off a Brenden Dillon minor to keep the Flyers close enough until Anthony Mantha could put the puck on a tee for Eller's tying tally at 19:20 of the third, spoiling the 28-year-old Lyon's bid for his first career NHL shutout.
In the overtime, the Caps had the better of the possession and the scoring opportunities, but they won it after losing a defensive zone face-off, regaining possession, and moving the puck up the ice.
Dowd carried into the Philadelphia zone along the left-wing wall, putting a lead feed to the front for Sheary, who had a step on his man. Sheary shot from in tight, and Lyon got piece of it, but was unable to prevent it from wobbling over the goal line for a Washington win.
"He played extremely well," says Flyers coach Alain Vigneault of Lyon's 38-save performance. "It was disappointing I'm sure for our whole group that we let that one slip away. It would have been another solid win for the young man.
"Unfortunately, we took the penalty there at the end that was in my opinion a borderline call. We killed it off, and they were 6-on-5 with [Voracek] stepping on and we left the middle open there, and they got a one-timer through him there. It's unfortunate, he played a real strong game for us tonight."
The Caps know they'll start the playoffs at home, and they'll host either Boston or the New York Islanders to start the first round.
Video: Postgame | Peter Laviolette
"I thought we played a real strong game," says Caps coach Peter Laviolette of his club. "It went in waves a little bit; I thought we were really good in the first period. The second period I thought they had us a little bit; we didn't generate very much in the second period. But we talked about things after the second period, and I thought our guys played really well in the third and played hard through overtime, lots of chances. We started to get pucks to the net, we started to sustain some more offensive zone time.
"We lost our way a little bit in the second period, but to be down 1-0 like that late in the game, and battle back and tie it up and win it in overtime, I thought we did a good job in overtime as well. That was a real gutsy game with what we're dealing with right now."