From the beginning of Washington's NHL existence in 1974-75, it took six years for the Caps to be able to beat the Philadelphia Flyers; the Capitals went 0-19-6 before finally earning their first victory over the Flyers. So there was certainly some satisfaction in Washington's 3-1 win over Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon.
Not only was it the second sweep of a season's series by Washington over Philadelphia - the first was in Alex Ovechkin's sophomore campaign of 2006-07 - but it almost certainly was the final handful of dirt on the coffin of the '18-19 Flyers' playoff possibilities.
Down to six games remaining on the schedule, the Flyers would have to win them all just to get to 92 points, which is unlikely to be enough.
Video: Capitals defeat Flyers, 3-1, extend Metropolitan lead
"It's not a secret," says Philly captain Claude Giroux. "Right now, it's going to be real tough to get in. Two weeks ago, I think we had confidence in our group and we liked the way we were playing. The last two weeks hasn't gone our way."
Washington's collective alarm clock hasn't always functioned in a punctual manner for matinee matches this season, but the Caps were prompt and fully charged for Sunday's puck drop. For the fourth time in as many meetings against the Flyers this season, the Caps broke the seal on the scoresheet in the first frame.
The Caps benefited from a good bounce during an offensive zone shift; Alex Ovechkin's intended cross-ice feed for Tom Wilson was blocked by Philly pivot Claude Giroux, the puck caroming out to center point where Nick Jensen collected it and put it back toward the net front. Wilson redirected it past Bryan Elliott for a 1-0 lead at 3:52.
Alas, there was some regression for the Caps in the second period as they spent far too much of it in their own end of the ice, and killing penalties. Washington took the first of a trio of minor penalties in the first half-minute of the frame, setting the tone for those 20 minutes.
The Caps' best offensive chances were two-on-one rush chances from Burakovsky and Connolly, both of which were thwarted by Elliott. Fortunately for Washington, it was able to double its lead on a fourth-line shift - and one of its few forechecking forays in the second - just past the midpoint of the middle frame.
Burakovsky put some forechecking heat on a Philly defender in the right wing corner, forcing an errant feed that went right to Nic Dowd high in the Philly zone. Dowd fed Travis Boyd, who missed the net on a shot from the left circle, and the puck rolled out to the right point where Matt Niskanen pumped it back toward the Philly net. Boyd drove-by and deflected it past Elliott to make it a 2-0 game at 10:47.
Video: PHI@WSH: Boyd scores on redirection to double lead
"It felt really good," says Boyd. "I had a split second there where I was a little frustrated with myself for missing the net completely on the first chance, but it's a funny game. Sometimes you can be all alone with the goalie and miss the net. Two seconds later, you get an opportunity to tip one and somehow that one goes in."
It turned out to be the first game-winning goal of Boyd's NHL career.
Caps goalie Braden Holtby was a human fortress for much of the second, but the Flyers finally penetrated that wall on the third of those power plays. Niskanen swept the puck out of the crease on a goalmouth scramble, but it went right to Jakub Voracek in the right circle, and he fired it in at 17:10 of the second, the only one of Philly's 20 shots to get through in the second.
"The second was not a strong period for us at all," says Caps coach Todd Reirden. "That's when you need your goaltender, and he was very good in that period. He kept us in the game until we were able to get some chances and convert on them. But he was excellent tonight."
When Washington was dealt a fourth straight penalty-killing mission early in the third, Holtby was again equal to the task, making a pair of strong stops on noted Caps killer Voracek to preserve the narrow lead.
Just past the middle of the third, the Caps were able to restore their two-goal cushion when Connolly made a good play at the Washington line to spring speedy Jakub Vrana on a breakaway. Vrana did the rest, threading a shot through Elliott's five-hole to extend the Washington lead to 3-1 with 8:07 remaining.
The Caps effectively stifled a Philly team that was clearly running on fumes the rest of the way; the Flyers managed only two shots on net in the final 14-plus minutes, one of them a harmless 126-footer from Corbin Knight.
Video: Postgame Locker Room | March 24
Wilson mentioned how much he enjoys playing against the Flyers, and a reporter wondered whether extra satisfaction could be derived from the season's sweep, which included three crushing defeats in a span of 19 days in March.
"I don't want to say it on camera," begins a diplomatic Wilson, "but they would feel the same way if it was reversed. It's always nice this time of year when you're collecting those points and winning against teams that are playing desperate hockey.
"They've got guys on that side that battle pretty hard, and it's never fun when you're in that position. But we'll move forward. Those three games that we played against them the last month or so, those were big points both ways. So we're happy to have done what we did."