-- With the chance to clinch a playoff spot on the line, on the road, without their All-Star sniper and captain, the Washington Capitals
were looking for someone to step up.
On Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, it was Nicklas Backstrom, who had a goal and an assist, scored in the shootout and played 23:17 to help the Caps to a gutsy 5-4 shootout victory against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The victory was the Caps' 11th in their last 12 games, put them in the playoffs for the fourth straight season and moved them within one point of the Flyers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Alexander Semin scored the deciding goal in the shootout, Mike Knuble had a goal and 2 assists, Marcus Johansson had a goal and an assist and Dennis Wideman had a goal for the Capitals, who won despite allowing the Flyers to score four straight goals after they had built a 3-0 lead.
Claude Giroux and Andreas Nodl each had a goal and an assist and Kris Versteeg and Danny Briere also had goals for the Flyers, who are 4-0-3 in their last seven games.
It was Briere's goal that seemed to swing the momentum in the Flyers' favor late as his tip-in of a Kimmo Timonen shot put Philadelphia ahead 4-3 with 5:45 left in the third period.
However, that lead didn't last long as Johansson beat Brian Boucher with a snap shot from the left circle with 3:29 remaining. After a scoreless overtime, Matt Hendricks, Backstrom and Semin all beat Boucher in the shootout, while Ville Leino and Briere scored for the Flyers. It was the fourth time in as many games these teams played into overtime.
The Caps know they don't get to the shootout without building their big lead early, and that had a lot to do with Backstrom's play.
"He rises to the occasion all the time," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He might not have the points that he had last year or the year before, but he's a great player. … We missed him for five games and it really hurt us. He does a lot of really good things out there defensively, with the puck, without the puck, and he makes lines go. Tonight in the first period it was like he said, 'OK I'm going, follow me.'"
Backstrom opened the scoring with his 18th goal of the season at 7:52 of the first period. Brooks Laich jumped on a loose puck in the neutral zone and fed Backstrom a pass at center ice. He raced into the Philadelphia end and fired a shot from just above the circles that found the slimmest of gaps between goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's left arm and body and trickled into the net.
After Knuble scored his 20th of the season late in the period -- the eighth straight season he's hit that mark -- Backstrom struck again early in the second. With the Caps skating on a power play, he made a nice feed to Wideman at the point for a goal just 1:22 into the second.
Backstrom said he didn't feel any pressure to raise his performance level, saying he tries to play the same way whether Ovechkin is in the lineup or not. However, his teammates saw the complete package Tuesday, whether it was backchecking, blocking shots or winning faceoffs.
"He's one of our most complete players, plays both ends of the ice, he's fabulous offensively -- everyone sees he's a 100-point guy," Knuble said. "He's a great checker, great defender, great faceoff guy. He's very, very valuable to our team. You don't want he and Alex out at the same time, but we'll swap one for the other one. Nick got to rest last week and now it's Alex's turn."
Wideman's goal chased Bobrovsky in favor of Boucher. The goalie switch also seemed to switch the momentum.
Versteeg's centering pass intended for Nodl went off Wideman's skate and into the net to get the Flyers on the board at 8:05 of the second, and with 33.8 seconds left in the period, Nodl made a tremendous fake on a slap shot, then found Giroux alone on the left side for a slam-dunk score to make it a one-goal game heading into the third.
Midway through the third, Giroux tipped a Jeff Schultz clearing attempt to Nodl alone in front of the Washington net, and he beat Michal Neuvirth up high to tie the game 3-3. Just over four minutes later, Briere put the Flyers ahead.
The lead didn't last long, however, as Johansson came through with the goal that forced overtime.
Despite the loss, Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette was happy with his team's effort.
"I saw them play a good hockey game," he said. "I thought we had our best game in a while. The guys were motivated and there was lots of energy. The building was alive tonight and it was a different atmosphere for everybody. I thought that it was the best offensive attack that we have had in a long time. We really seemed to control the puck in the offensive zone and do the things that we wanted to do."
The Caps weren't as happy after allowing the Flyers to come back the way they did, but they got a playoff spot for the win and learned a lesson in the process.
"I think the important part from our standpoint was that a team comes back and scores four goals and gets the lead and you have the character that doesn't quit," Boudreau said. "I think most teams would have said, oh my goodness, in this building, as loud as it was, with all the momentum, we weren't getting any shots (but) we come back. … Just to have the wherewithal to come back in a game like that was important to us."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: NHLAdamK