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by Anthony SanFilippo / Philadelphia Flyers

WASHINGTON – Imagine a relay race of some distance (not a sprint) where the runners on the first three legs get out to a huge lead and then, when passing the baton to the anchor, instead of running at top speed, he decided to jog to the finish.

As unfathomable as that sounds, that’s kind of what it was like to watch the Flyers Sunday.

Because for so much of the game against the Capitals, they were way out in front.

And when Jake Voracek tipped in a Michael Raffl shot to give the Flyers a three-goal lead early in the third period, it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that the Flyers were going to come home from the Capital with an impressive road win.

But then, all of the sudden, they just stopped. Not that they weren’t playing – or didn’t care – but rather they just stopped doing what was working and went into an unexpected funk that they couldn’t get out of.

The Capitals scored three goals in less than eight minutes, with Alex Ovechkin potting the tying goal with 48 seconds to play and once the game reached the shootout, everything went against the Flyers in a disappointing 5-4 loss to the Caps.

Like Scott Hartnell hear on Jay Beagle, the Flyers hounded the Caps for 50 minutes, before a three-goal barrage late in the third cost them.

“They got a couple goals and we got back on our heels a little bit,” coach Craig Berube said. “I don’t know if you’d call that trouble, but we need to press the issue more with the lead… We stopped making plays. We were trying to put it up the wall to try and get it out. We need to keep making plays. We have to keep attacking, getting pucks in their end, keep putting pressure on them and keep getting shots on net… you can keep playing and stop making plays, but that’s not good enough.”

And on this day, a day when there were so many things to really like about the way the team played – namely a second consecutive game of strong play from the top line – the team is left wondering just how they ended up losing a game that was all but won.

It wasn’t a meltdown. It wasn’t a string of boneheaded mistakes that led to the Washington comeback, but rather a confluence of events that happens in hockey that could only have been avoided if the Flyers stayed persistent, which is where it went awry. It was far more subtle, and yet, that much more painful.

“At the end of the day when you lose a game like that , it doesn’t matter how many goals you scored or how many points you have, it’s a bad loss,” said Mark Streit, who scored the second goal of the game for the Flyers. “I think we stopped playing a little bit. We got the lead by being all over those guys. We made good decisions and we were smart with the puck.

“Then, all of the sudden we relaxed. We were in our own end a lot and couldn’t get pucks out. We were way too passive.”

Mike Green made it 4-2 with a wrister from the point, and that suddenly gave the Caps life with eight minutes to play. That goal came as the result of an icing, a faceoff on the wrong side of the ice, a lost draw, and a failed effort to get the puck out of the zone.

Dmitry Orlov cut it to 4-3 with less than four minutes to play when his shot knicked off of Nicklas Grossmann’s pants and past goalie Steve Mason, who never saw the shot as he was screened by Grossmann the whole time.

The momentum was clearly in Washington’s favor and the Flyers tried to hang on, but couldn’t, as a clearing attempt by Mason from behind the net was weak, and the Caps jumped on the puck quickly. Joel Ward fed it to the point for Green, but Ovechkin swooped in front of his teammate, intercepting the pass, and snapped a wrister past Mason to tie the game.

“It was a misplay,” Mason said. “I didn’t get much on it. It was a bad mistake.”

From there, overtime was relatively uneventful and then came the shootout, which had more heartbreak for the Flyers.

Eric Fehr shot first for the Caps and Mason made the save… or so he thought.

The puck landed at his feet and kept sliding, agonizingly toward the goal line. Mason didn’t see it until it was about to cross the line and by the time he was able to get his stick on it a second time, the puck had inched across the goal line.

“I had no idea where the puck was,” Mason said. “I had gotten a good chunk of it and I thought it had gone off to the corner.”

It didn’t. And although he stopped Overchkin, Nicklas Backstrom beat him to the short side, putting the game on Sean Couturier’s stick to keep the Flyers alive.

Against Ottawa, Couturier rang one off the post, and the Flyers lost. Sunday, he also had the goalie beat – in this case Philipp Grubauer, but his shot sailed high.

The loss left the Flyers (14-15-4, 32 points) in a virtual tie for fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind third place Carolina with a game in hand. But rather than closing within four points of the second place Capitals, who the Flyers host at Wells Fargo Center Tuesday, they fell seven points back, a three point swing in such a short period of time.

“We played hesitant instead of playing assertive like we did for 50 minutes,” Grossmann said. “That’s not the way we want to play. We played a very good game for 50 minutes and then we got sloppy.”

In those first 50 minutes, the top line continued to click.

Michael Raffl had a career high three points, assisting on goals by Claude Giroux, Mark Streit and Jake Voracek.

The Flyers celebrate Claude GIroux's first period goal. It was the first time the Flyers lost when their captain scored a goal.

He fed Giroux with a nice pass in the slot for a one-timer that beat Grubauer to tie the score 1-1. He made a nifty touch pass to Streit who snapped one home for 2-1, and then he fired a shot that Voracek deflected it to make it 4-1 following a goal by Sean Couturier from a bad angle that made it 3-1.

Together, Raffl, Giroux and Voracek had six points against the Caps and have combined for 11 points in two games together.

“[Raffl’s] been great,” said general manager Paul Holmgren. “He smart and he’s really strong on the puck. For a European guy coming over here and getting his first kick at the can, he’s looked good and now he’s getting rewarded with some points.”


NOTES: The Flyers are now 6-0-1 in games Giroux scores a goal… Streit’s goal was his 300th career point… The Caps first goal originally credited to Marcus Johansson was changed to Ovechkin as the puck clearly tipped off of Kimmo Timonen’s stick and past Mason. However, for some unexplained reason, it was changed back to Johansson well after the game was over. Crazy… Voracek extended his point streak to four games… The Flyers are 1-3 this season in shootouts.

To contact Anthony SanFilippo email or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers

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